GERD: A Burning Issue for Many
12/04/2003

For many people, heartburn is more than just an occasional annoyance.  These people have a common digestive problem called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).  With GERD, the contents of the stomach flow back up into the esophagus.

Many things can cause GERD, including digestive muscles that do not work properly; obesity; pregnancy and lifestyle. Although GERD is rarely life-threatening, it can lead to bleeding or ulcers in the esophagus. Plus, it may increase a person’s risk for certain cancers of the esophagus.

Do you have GERD?  Heartburn and acid regurgitation are the classic signs of GERD, but the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders, lists additional signs including:

  • Belching
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Waterbrash (sudden excess of saliva)
  • Dysphagia (the sensation of food sticking in the esophagus)
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Laryngitis
  • Inflammation of the gums
  • Erosion of the enamel of the teeth
  • Chronic irritation in the throat
  • Hoarseness in the morning
  • A sour taste
  • Bad breath
  • Chest pain

Your doctor may suggest a special test to check for the condition.

According to the IFFGD, lifestyle choices often help ease the discomfort of GERD. These include:

  • Not smoking
  • Limiting alcohol
  • Staying away from foods that have caffeine, onions, tomatoes, peppermint, spearmint, chocolate, citrus fruits or a lot of spices or fat
  • Losing weight, if overweight
  • Raising the head of the bed by six inches
  • Not lying down within three hours after eating
  • Not wearing tight-fitting clothes
  • Not eating large meals
        

People with GERD sometimes need medications to ease their symptoms. Over-the-counter antacids can help. But when antacids aren’t enough, other medications can help lower acid.  Lifestyle changes and medications help most people.  For those with more serious cases of GERD, doctors may suggest other forms of treatment or surgery.

If you have GERD, your doctor can help you decide the best treatment for you.