GERD Awareness Week, by Jessica Reynolds, MD, Surgical Associates of Northwest Ohio, Blanchard Valley Health System
The week of Thanksgiving is national Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) Awareness Week. Overindulging often leads to symptoms of heartburn, bloating, and regurgitation. However, when these symptoms occur on a regular basis despite normal eating habits, you may have GERD. The difference between normal reflux and GERD has to do with the amount of reflux you are having. Whereas reflux symptoms a few times a month are completely normal and likely do not need any specific treatment other than occasional over the counter medications, symptoms that occur several times a week or require daily medication are concerning for GERD. It is important to recognize if you have GERD and it is left untreated, it can lead complications including:
- Damage to the esophagus
- Damage to the throat
- Inflammation and narrowing of the esophagus
- Respiratory problems
- Esophageal cancer
Although not all GERD patients experience heartburn, it remains the most common symptom of GERD, along with tasting food or acid in the back of the mouth. Other symptoms of GERD include:
- Bad breath
- Chest or abdominal pain
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing
- Teeth erosion
Several of these symptoms can be managed with over-the-counter medications and lifestyle changes, such as avoiding certain foods. These foods include chocolate, peppermint, coffee, tomatoes and alcoholic beverages. Eating smaller portions, not smoking and losing weight, if necessary, can also help treat GERD symptoms. If symptoms do not improve after basic managing techniques have been attempted, doctors may prescribe medication or suggest surgery as treatment.
It is important to know that GERD is not an acid problem. The acid in our stomach is important for food digestion, absorption of electrolytes, and killing the bacteria in the food we eat. GERD is a problem with the valve between the stomach and the esophagus not working appropriately to keep the acid in the stomach. Antacid medications get rid of acid, which can help with symptoms but do not stop reflux. Medications are very useful for mild or intermittent symptoms. However, if you are dependent on daily medication, you can still have severe complications from GERD, such as developing esophageal cancer despite not having any symptoms.
There are endoscopic and minimally invasive procedures that can fix the valve and cure GERD. It is also important to evaluate for conditions that can be related to GERD, such as sleep apnea, allergies and asthma.
If you think you might have gastroesophageal reflux disease, contact your primary care provider.