Acid reflux, or GERD, is a treatable condition which, if left unaddressed, can have serious consequences.
Dr. Philip Weber is the Director of Minimally Invasive Surgery, Robotics and Bariatrics at White Plains Hospital. He offers five facts about GERD.
- Gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition that occurs when stomach acid or bile refluxes, or flows back to the esophagus, irritating the lining and causing heartburn and discomfort, often intense. The American Gastroenterological Association reports that more than 60 million Americans experience heartburn or GERD symptoms at least once every month.
- Symptoms: While many people experience some form of heartburn occasionally, persistent or recurring symptoms may indicate a more serious condition like GERD. These symptoms include a burning sensation in the chest and throat that occurs most commonly after eating, difficulty swallowing and regurgitation of food, and a sensation that food is stuck in the chest rather than moving through the digestive tract.
- Prevention: Diet and lifestyle changes can sometimes be effective in preventing GERD. Avoiding fatty and spicy foods, alcohol, nicotine, and caffeinated or carbonated beverages may reduce acid reflux in some individuals. Quitting smoking, losing weight, eating smaller meals and remaining upright for three hours after eating can also prevent or reduce symptoms.
- Diagnosis: An esophageal test to measure acidity levels and muscle strength in the esophagus are common first steps in diagnosing GERD. You may also be referred for an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy to look at the lining of the esophagus, stomach and small intestine or an upper gastrointestinal series to take X-rays of the esophagus and stomach.
- Treatment: Mild GERD can sometimes be managed by over-the-counter antacids and lifestyle changes. Prescription medication can also be effective and, in severe cases, surgery or an endoscopic procedure is often recommended. Because untreated GERD can sometimes lead to a potentially cancer-causing condition called Barrett’s Esophagus, it is important to manage the condition under a doctor’s supervision.
“While approximately one in five Americans live with heartburn on an occasional basis, the persistent symptoms accompanying GERD can be profoundly uncomfortable and should be addressed,” says Dr Weber. “Thankfully, newer treatments are now available to effectively relieve symptoms and prevent further complications.”