It is estimated that nearly 65% of all adults have experienced heartburn at one time or another. You know that feeling: after eating a meal, there is that sudden feeling of burning in your chest. It is often described as someone running a knife through you, just beneath the sternum and is taking their time twisting it around.
So, what is the difference between heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD? Heartburn is the incidence, but GERD is a chronic cycle of heartburn.
What Is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease that occurs when stomach acid or, occasionally, bile flows back (refluxes) into your food pipe (esophagus). The backwash of acid irritates the lining of your esophagus and causes GERD signs and symptoms. When these signs and symptoms occur at least twice each week or interfere with your daily life, this is called GERD.
Signs and Symptoms of GERD:
Frequest Throat Clearing
Globus Hystericus (feeling of “lump in throat”
Water Brash – regurgitation of excessive saliva
Regurgitation of Foods or Liquids
Loss of Dental Enamel
Causes of GERD:
Delayed stomach emptying
Connective tissue disorders, such as scleroderma
Complications of GERD:
Over time, chronic inflammation in your esophagus can lead to complications, including:
Narrowing of the esophagus (esophageal stricture). Damage to cells in the lower esophagus from acid exposure leads to formation of scar tissue. The scar tissue narrows the food pathway, causing difficulty swallowing.
An open sore in the esophagus (esophageal ulcer). Stomach acid can severely erode tissues in the esophagus, causing an open sore to form. The esophageal ulcer may bleed, cause pain and make swallowing difficult.
Precancerous changes to the esophagus (Barrett’s esophagus). In Barrett’s esophagus, the color and composition of the tissue lining the lower esophagus change. These changes are associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer. The risk of cancer is low, but your doctor will likely recommend regular endoscopy exams to look for early warning signs of esophageal cancer.
What To Do If You Are Experiencing GERD Symptoms:
1) See Your Health Care Provider: Through thorough examination and assessment of symptoms, your provider can implement a plan to treat your GERD symptoms. This will likely include:
2) Undergo an EGD (Upper GI Scope): It sounds worse than it really is. a procedure usually performed by a gastroenterologist (GI doctor). This test involves passing an endoscope, a long, flexible black tube with a light and video camera on one end, through the mouth to examine the esophagus, stomach and the first part of the small intestine called the duodenum. You will be given a sedation medication, and the procedure only last about 15-20 mins. This allows the physician to see the entire esophagus and stomach. They can take biopsies if needed.
3) Find Out What Triggers It: Make some changes in your diet. To improve your condition, you should learn to cut off foods and drinks that can trigger the occurrence of your acid reflux. If you find it difficult to make direct diet changes, you can do it gradually by setting up limitations. Some of the stuffs that you need to cut off in order to reduce episodes of acid reflux are carbonated and caffeinated drinks, alcoholic beverages, spicy foods and foods that are high in complex carbohydrates and fats.
4) Think About What You Are Drinking: Water is one of the best natural treatments for GERD. Drinking lots of water will dilute acid contents and help balance the pH of your stomach–which will then reduce the onset of your acid reflux. Drinking a glass of whole milk, skim milk or butter milk is another effective remedy for acid reflux that neutralizes stomach acids and provides immediate relief.
5) Avoid Large Meals: Do not gorge and eat smaller meals instead. Take your time when you eat and do not swallow too much food. Taking in smaller amount of food at a time will help reduce the pressure on your digestive tract and will prevent the acid from your stomach to back up into your lower esophageal sphincter.
6) Watch Your Weight: Manage your weight. Being overweight is one of the main causes of constantly experiencing acid reflux. The excess fats on the area of your abdomen can push up to your stomach and will cause some of its acid contents to back up into your lower esophageal sphincter. So change your slow lifestyle into an active one. Exercise daily along with proper diet to not only get rid of your acid reflux but to also keep your whole system healthy.
7) After Meals: Avoid inappropriate body positions or applying any pressure around your abdominal area after meals. After eating, refrain from doing stuffs that can trigger acid reflux including lying down, bending and stooping. You should also loosen your belt to avoid pressure on you abdomen after eating. If your belt is tightly fastened around your waist when you’re full, there will be a huge tendency for it to build pressure around your abdominal area which can cause stomach acids to flow back into the lower esophageal sphincter.
8) Try Cinnamon: Use cinnamon to treat your acid reflux. Cinnamons are not only known for its antiseptic effects to treat colds and flu, but it is also a potent agent that neutralizes acidity. You can use cinnamon by adding it as a topping on your bread. Toast a raisin bread, butter it up, and sprinkle cinnamon on top of it. When eating the bread, try to chew it well before swallowing to allow your stomach to digest it effectively.
9) Garlic or Almonds: Try chewing garlic or almonds. Both of these agents are effective natural remedies for acid reflux. If you opt for using garlic as treatment, you should use those that are fresh. Just chew a clove of garlic when your acid reflux occurs or you can also crush the clove with a spoon before chewing and swallowing it. (Just don’t be around people when you are doing this ;)) For almonds, chew and eat some in the morning or after every meal.
10) Medications: Over-the-counter treatments that may help control heartburn include:
Antacids that neutralize stomach acid. Antacids, such as Maalox, Mylanta, Gelusil, Rolaids and Tums, may provide quick relief. But antacids alone won’t heal an inflamed esophagus damaged by stomach acid. Overuse of some antacids can cause side effects, such as diarrhea or constipation.
Medications to reduce acid production. Called H-2-receptor blockers, these medications include cimetidine (Tagamet HB), famotidine (Pepcid AC), nizatidine (Axid AR) or ranitidine (Zantac 25, Zantac 75, Zantac 150). H-2-receptor blockers don’t act as quickly as antacids, but they provide longer relief. Stronger versions of these medications are available in prescription form.
Medications that block acid production and heal the esophagus. Proton pump inhibitors block acid production and allow time for damaged esophageal tissue to heal. Over-the-counter proton pump inhibitors include lansoprazole (Prevacid 24 HR) and omeprazole (Prilosec OTC).
Contact your doctor if you need to take these medications two or more times a week or your symptoms are not relieved.
11) Surgery: Yes, there is surgery for the severe cases
Surgery to reinforce the lower esophageal sphincter (Nissen fundoplication). This surgery involves tightening the lower esophageal sphincter to prevent reflux by wrapping the very top of the stomach around the outside of the lower esophagus. Surgery can be open or laparoscopic. In open surgery, the surgeon makes a long incision in your abdomen. In laparoscopic surgery, the surgeon makes three or four small incisions in the abdomen and inserts instruments, including a flexible tube with a tiny camera, through the incisions.
If symptoms persist, more than 2 days a week – you should see your health care provider. Also, if you experience pain in your chest lasting longer than 15 mins – Call 911 and go to your nearest ER. Heart attacks can look like reflux, so do not wait!!