What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

What is GERD?

When a person swallows, food passes through the food pipe to the stomach. A ring of muscle tissue called the lower esophageal sphincter contracts after allowing food into the stomach. This stops the food from coming back up into the food pipe.

GERD causes acid reflux and heartburn.

When the esophageal sphincter does not close correctly, the contents of the stomach can leak back into the food pipe, causing GERD. When the symptoms of GERD occur more than twice a week for a period of more than 3 weeks, it is considered to be a chronic disorder.

Other common names for the condition include Acid reflux, Heartburn, Acid indigestion, Acid regurgitation and Reflux.

GERD that is left unchecked may lead to serious health problems such as Barrett’s esophagus. In this condition, the normal lining of the food pipe is replaced with a different kind of tissue and there is a higher risk of cancer in this area.



Symptoms of GERD

For most people, GERD causes the feeling known as heartburn. This ranges from a burning feeling in the chest to feeling like food is stuck in the throat. People with GERD may also experience nausea after eating.

There are some less common symptoms of GERD as well, including

  • Hiccups
  • Burping
  • Wheezing or weak coughing
  • Sore throat
  • Voice changes
  • Hoarseness in voice
  • Food regurgitation

Lying down immediately after eating may make symptoms worse. For some people, the symptoms are worse during the night. People who experience the symptoms of GERD during the night may find relief by elevating their head while sleeping and avoiding meals before bed.



Treatments for GERD

According to the Mayo Clinic, people can purchase over-the-counter (OTC) medications to treat GERD. These include antacids such as Gaviscon, which neutralizes stomach acid.
People can also get H-2-receptor blockers, such as Zantac, which may decrease the production of stomach acid for up to 12 hours. OTC proton-pump inhibitors are stronger blockers. An individual should not use any of these medications for more than 2 to 3 weeks. It is preferable you see your doctor if you have any symptoms of GERD to prescribe medications for you.

Prescription medicines include stronger acid blockers. While effective, they have been linked to vitamin B-12 deficiency and a small risk of bone fracture.
Baclofen can help to control symptoms by reducing the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, but adverse effects include fatigue and confusion.

Your doctor can also advise you on what to eat and what not to eat to reduce your GERD symptoms.



Natural remedies

Other natural treatments that may help include slippery elm bark, which contains high levels of mucilage. Mucilage can coat and soothe the throat and stomach, and it may also cause the secretion of mucus in the stomach, which protects it from acid damage.
Including slippery elm bark in a daily regimen may help to treat symptoms of GERD.

Early research published in BMC Gastroenterology suggests that an oral melatonin supplement may also help to treat GERD symptoms. However, it is only recommended as part of the process, and further studies are needed to confirm these results.



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