Medical research is still trying to determine all of the causes of GERD. They have determined that several things may put you more at risk for developing GERD, but have not determined why or all of the other causes. The symptoms of GERD can be very hard to live with especially if you have highly active symptoms. GERD can become more active at night or if you smoke so it is important to monitor what causes your symptoms so that you can inform your physician. If your symptoms go untreated, it can lead to having worse, or more severe, GERD symptoms that you have previously experienced. Obtaining a diagnosis of GERD can be a little trying and may involve triggering your symptoms. However, once a diagnosis has been made, you will more than likely be prescribed medication to treat your symptoms. There is not cure, but medication management can help control the symptoms for the most part. In cases of severe GERD, treatment may include surgery. It is important to remember that GERD can happen at any age including infancy and childhood.
What GERD Is
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, is repeated heartburn that interferes with your life. This can be heartburn more than two times a week. Usually, over the counter medications like Zantac or Prilosec don’t help with the heartburn, or they may help some, but fade quickly. Understanding how GERD works can help you to understand why you are not getting relief from your symptoms.
After you eat, food particles can come back up into your esophagus, when this happens, stomach acid comes up with it. Under normal circumstances, the esophagus may be able to push this mixture back down after a short bout of heartburn. However, with GERD, the esophagus has too much of the acid in it and it happens to often. This can lead to bleeding, formation of ulcers, and scaring in the esophagus.
Risk Factors that Can Lead to GERD
There are many things that can cause you to start showing symptoms of GERD. These don’t mean you will get GERD or that you have GERD, but these are typical risk factors. These risk factors are also contributing factors to making your symptoms worse than they began.
Being overweight or obese
Severe or extended periods of stress
Excessive alcohol use
Your dietary habits
Smoking or dipping
Having more than one pregnancy in a short period of time
Symptoms Of GERD
Symptoms of GERD can be severe or mild, so let your doctor know if any of these symptoms get worse.
Pain or discomfort in the middle of the chest
Failure to get relief from over the counter treatment
Having trouble swallowing or pain when swallowing
Feels like food is stuck in your throat
Feeling like you are choking
Feeling like your throat is tight
Having a sour or acidic taste in your mouth
You can have GERD if you have some symptoms without heartburn
How Your Doctor Diagnoses GERD
It differs from doctor to doctor and what type of GERD they think you have. However, they may try these options to diagnose your GERD.
Changing Your Diet
Trying Medication management
Esophageal pH test (this will tell them if acid is coming back up into your esophagus)
Upper GI Series (X-rays of your esophagus. This will show if there is anything wrong with your esophagus)
Esophageal Manometry (The doctor will numb your nose and the back of your throats, a small tube is placed into your nose and down into your stomach. They will monitor how your esophageal sphincter muscle, the muscle that holds the stomach acid in, works)
Upper Endoscopy (They guide a small fiber optic camera down your throat to see if there is any damage)
If Your Are Diagnosed With GERD
Depending on how severe your symptoms are, your doctor will decide the treatment. The method they will use is determining how severe your symptoms are and when they typically show up. They will also want to know how much they affect your day to day life and what you have tried to do for them already.
These treatments may include changing your diet and some of your lifestyle. They may write you a prescription for medication, or you may qualify for surgery to improve your symptoms.
Complications of GERD
If you are diagnosed with GERD, you may want to watch for complications of this disease. These complications may include bleeding in your esophagus, esophageal ulcers, build up of scar tissue in your esophagus, esophageal cancer, and Barrett’s esophagus which means cells in your esophagus change and become discolored.
This disease may affect your asthma, or other diseases or conditions of the chest and esophagus.