Heartburn or GERD?

Do you suffer from frequent heartburn? Do you find it hard to swallow at times and find yourself regurgitating sour liquid or food? If yes, you aren’t the only one. You could be one of millions of people around the world who suffer from GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). 

The tube that connects the mouth and stomach is called the Esophagus. GERD occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the esophagus instead of making its way down the digestive tract. The acid in this backflow irritates the esophagus lining and makes it inflamed. 

Usually relief from regurgitation can be got by elevating the head of the bed and avoiding late night meals.

While heartburn after a heavy meal once in a while may be nothing to rush to the doctor about, when heartburn returns a few times a week, along with some of these symptoms, it is best to set up a doctor’s appointment right away.

  • Pain in the chest
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Regurgitation 
  • Sensation of a lump in the throat
  • Chronic cough
  • Laryngitis
  • New or worsening asthma
  • Disrupted sleep

Typically, it is not food per say that causes GERD, but for some people, certain foods can trigger acid- reflux, which then causes GERD. Some common foods that can contribute to worsening of symptoms include onions, tomato sauce, mint, carbonated drinks, chocolate, coffee, hot or spicy foods and foods high in fat. Alcohol and smoking too can induce GERD. In general, eating large meals and lying down too soon after eating can be a trigger too. 

If staying off from all triggers and maintaining a healthy lifestyle does not help with your symptoms, there can be reasons beyond your control that can be the underlying cause of GERD.  For example, during pregnancy, levels of the hormone progesterone increases and can loosen the lower esophageal sphincter. This opens up the gates for the acid to flow upwards. Peptic ulcers, hiatal hernia, certain connective tissue disorders and Asthma too have been linked with GERD. If your symptoms persist, it is time to look deeper for causes, so treatment can be immediate and effective. 

If left unchecked, GERD can result in serious problems including Esophagitis, Barett’s esophagus, strictures, and esophageal cancer. Your doctor might recommend tests such as an upper endoscopy, Ambulatory acid (pH) probe test, Esophageal manometry or an X-ray of your upper digestive system. These tests are helpful in confirming the diagnosis of GERD and in checking for complications.

Treatment for GERD depends on the severity of the symptoms. The first line of defense is making lifestyle changes. This includes eating lighter meals that are devoid of excess fat and spices, wearing clothes that are not so tight as to put pressure on the abdomen and giving up alcohol and smoking. Mild GERD symptoms can often be relieved with over the counter antacids. If these fail, the doctor may prescribe H2 blockers that decrease acid production. While antacids neutralize stomach acid, H2 blockers stop your stomach from creating acid and help in healing of the esophagus. Proton pump inhibitors or PPIs may be prescribed for long-term GERD treatment. These medicines may have side effects and so need to be taken with caution and only under the advice of a doctor. If medicines do not help, the doctor may recommend surgery. 

The wise have always maintained that the secret to a truly happy life is good digestion. If yours is giving you heartburn and sleepless nights, it’s time to take control and seek help.

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