By Marc Courtiol
GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a chronic condition and, once a person has it, it generally continues throughout that individual’s life. Because GERD does not simply go away even after a person has completed a full course of treatment, physicians tend to recommend that people with this condition remain on medication so that they do not experience a recurrence of symptoms.
GERD occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. The acid irritates the lining of the esophagus and causes the signs and symptoms of acid reflux and heartburn. When these symptoms occur more than two times per week, or when they begin to interfere with the normal functioning of a person’s daily life, GERD is the usual diagnosis.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of GERD include the following:
- Dry cough
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hoarseness or sore throat
- Chest pain
- Sensation of having a lump in the throat
- Acid reflux
- Burning sensation in the chest (heartburn)
- Occasional sour taste in the mouth
There are certain medical conditions that can increase a person’s risk of developing GERD.
- Hiatal hernia
- Connective tissue disorders
- Delayed emptying of the stomach
- Dry mouth
- Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
Most people initially choose to use over the counter treatments when they first start experiencing GERD symptoms. Most doctors recommend that people go to see their doctor for a complete examination if they do not experience relief from their symptoms within two or three weeks of using those types of medications.
In some cases, antacids may be enough to control the symptoms of GERD. If your esophagus is already inflamed, however, antacids will not be enough to promote healing. In fact, overusing antacids can lead to unpleasant side effects such as constipation and diarrhea, so they should always be used with care.
After antacids, people generally start taking H-2 receptor blockers such as Tagamet, Zantac, and Pepcid. These drugs do not act as quickly as antacids, but they do provide much longer relief. If over the counter versions do not work well for patients, prescription medications can be taken.
Proton pump inhibitors are medications that block acid production and help to heal the esophagus. These are available either over the counter or via prescription.
If medications do not help a person’s GERD symptoms, there are surgeries and other procedures that can be performed in an effort to alleviate symptoms.
- Procedure to form scar tissue in the esophagus – called the Stretta system, electrode energy is used to heat esophageal tissue. Heat creates scar tissue and damages the nerves that respond to stomach acid that has been refluxed.
- Surgery to create a barrier that prevents the backup of stomach acid – called EndoCinch, this procedure places stitches in the stomach near the weakened sphincter. The materials used to create the stitches are tied together, which creates barriers to prevent stomach acid from going into the esophagus.
- Surgery to reinforce the lower esophageal sphincter – this procedure is called Nissen fundoplication, and it involves tightening the lower esophageal sphincter to prevent acid reflux.
You can also make some basic lifestyle changes to help reduce the number of instances of heartburn that you experience.
- Do not smoke
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Do not lie down after meals
- Avoid foods that trigger your heartburn