All You Need to Know About GERD: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

a colored X-ray image of a man suffering from GERD
Contributed by: Rachana Arya

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disorder that affects people of all ages — from infants to older adults. The term “gastroesophageal” refers to the stomach and the esophagus. Reflux means, to flow back or return. Gastroesophageal reflux is when the stomach’s content sometimes flows backward, up into the esophagus, thereby causing burning discomfort in the chest known as heartburn.

Common Signs and Symptoms of GERD

Some typical tell-tale signs of GERD include:

  • A burning sensation in your chest, mostly after a meal. Also known as ‘heartburn’. 
  • Pain in the chest
  • Backing up of food or bitter liquid from the stomach to the throat
  • A lump like feeling in your throat

Other Symptoms of GERD 

  • Difficult or pain while swallowing
  • Foul breath
  • Nausea
  • Pain in the upper abdomen or chest
  • Problems with teeth wearing away
  • Respiratory problems
  • Vomiting
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Recurrent cough
  • Laryngitis or hoarseness
  • New or worsening asthma
  • Disrupted sleep

Causes

  • Eating a large meal
  • Eating soon before going to bed
  • Lying flat soon after eating
  • Consuming alcoholic, caffeinated, or carbonated beverages
  • Eating certain foods, such as chocolate, citrus fruits, onions, peppermint, tomatoes, or spicy or oily foods
  • Side effects from certain medicines, including aspirin and certain drugs for asthma, high blood pressure, allergies, sedatives, and  anti-depressants
  • Increased pressure on the abdomen from being overweight, obese, or pregnant
  • Smoking
  • Suffering from hiatal hernia

Diagnosing GERD

The testing procedures for the diagnosis of GERD range from radiology and pathology to physiology and endoscopy. A gastroenterologist — a doctor that specializes in digestive disorders — may conduct a thorough physical exam and evaluate your diet as well as complete medical history. Some patients may have GERD but require additional testing for diagnostic evaluation. That’s when your doctor may want to include multiple tests, in addition to a thorough clinical examination.

  • X-ray of the upper digestive system
  • Endoscopy (to examine inside of the esophagus)
  • Ambulatory acid (pH) test (to monitor the amount of acid in the esophagus)
  • Esophageal impedance test (to measure the movement of substances in the esophagus)

Treatment and Management

Most people can manage the discomfort of GERD with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications, or a combination of both. However, some people with GERD may need stronger medications or surgery to ease symptoms. If left untreated, GERD can lead to esophageal damage, cancer and other complications. 

Lifestyle changes to treat GERD include:

  • Elevate the head of your bed to 6-8 inches
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Decrease meal size and eat small meals in the evening
  • Don’t lie down within 2-3 hours of food intake
  • Decrease caffeine intake
  • Sitting upright while eating
  • Eating at least three hours before bedtime
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat foods slowly
  • Do not wear tight-fitting clothing
  • Do not lie down immediately after consuming a meal
  • Avoid foods and beverages that trigger GERD, including caffeine, fatty foods, spicy foods, peppermint, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and carbonated beverages

In Closing

Remember, diet plays a very important role in controlling acid reflux symptoms and is the first line of therapy advised by most doctors. So, make sure your diet includes foods such as whole grains, green vegetables, bananas, nuts, etc.

 

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