Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, occurs when acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus. Acid reflux often occurs after eating a big meal. When stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, it can cause heartburn, regurgitation and chest discomfort.
Normally over-the-counter antacids help alleviate occasional and mild heartburn. However, when acid reflux occurs frequently or starts to interfere with your daily activities, you may need more potent therapy. GERD can cause inflammation, scarring and subsequent narrowing and blockage of your esophagus. GERD can also lead to more serious disorders such as Barrett’s esophagus and even esophageal cancer.
Lifestyle and dietary choices often contribute to the chance of developing GERD. For example, smoking can decrease saliva production ‒ a natural antacid. Obesity often goes hand in hand with poor eating habits and excess weight puts pressure on the abdominal area, causing more reflux. Pregnant women also are more susceptible to acid reflux throughout their pregnancy due to hormonal changes and the additional weight of carrying a fetus. Presence of a hiatal hernia may also be associated with the development of GERD.
Diagnosis and Symptoms of GERD
Typical symptoms of GERD include:
- “wet” burps
- trouble swallowing
- chest and/or abdominal pain
Symptoms of GERD may be exacerbated by eating or are often worse at night when lying down.
Your NorthShore gastroenterologist will ask about your medical history and inquire about your dietary habits. In addition to conducting a physical exam, your physician may recommend one or more diagnostic tests to measure the degree of your acid reflux such as a 24-hour esophageal pH study or BRAVO study.
Difficulty swallowing may be a sign of more serious conditions. As a result of repetitive acid damage to the lining of the esophagus, subsequent scarring can narrow the esophagus producing an esophageal stricture. This specific complaint may prompt your physician to recommend an endoscopic procedure to examine your esophagus for this abnormality.
Lifestyle modifications often work well to relieve, if not eliminate, the symptoms of GERD. Your gastroenterologist may recommend that you:
- avoid rich, fatty or spicy foods
- cut out meals before bedtime
- elevate the head of your bed when sleeping
- lose weight
- stop smoking
Medications such as H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors may also be prescribed for GERD treatment. NorthShore also offers state-of-the-art minimally invasive surgical options performed by highly-skilled laparoscopic surgeons to treat cases of persistent acid reflux.
For More Information
For more information on GERD treatment or to make an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists, please call 847.657.1900.