(GERD) Gastroesophageal reflux
What is gastroesophageal reflux?
When you swallow, food passes down your throat and through your esophagus to your stomach. When this muscle fails to close the opening, the stomach’s contents can move back into the esophagus, especially if you are lying down. This backward movement is called esophageal reflux. When stomach acid enters the lower part of the esophagus, it can produce a “burning” sensation, usually called “heartburn.”
Three things to remember about gastroesophageal reflux:
  1. The positions of your body can bring on reflux. An upright posture helps produce reflux.
  2. The size of your meals is important. Smaller meals reduce reflux.
  3. The nature of certain foods and beverages can irritate the esophagus or weaken the muscle between the esophagus and the stomach.
How can I treat this cause of heartburn?:
  • Do not eat for 2 hours prior to going to sleep.
  • Do not lie down after meals.
  • Raise the head of your bed by 4 inches – use bricks or wooden blocks under the feet of the headboard.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat smaller meals.
  • Limit the amount of fatty food you eat.
  • Reduce the amount of caffeine in your diet.
  • Give up smoking.
Many people find that following these recommendations brings relief from heartburn and the pressure of esophageal reflux.
If GERD is left untreated it can lead to other problems such as:
  • Difficulty in swallowing.
  • Hoarseness of laryngitis that won’t go away.
  • Damage to vocal cords.
  • Aggravation of respiratory problems-- particularly if the stomach contents get into the airways.
  • Bleeding from erosions or ulcers in the esophagus.
  • Narrowing of the esophagus itself, or stricture.
  • Or rarely, Barrett’s esophagus, a condition that may lead to cancer.
Diagnostic tools include upper GI x-ray, endoscopy, and/or 24-hour acid test. Lifestyle adjustment, medication, and surgery are three phases of treatment. Usually phases 1 and 2 are so effective that phase 3 is not required. A small percentage of patients eventually require surgery. Since this is considered major surgery and the outcome is not always a guarantee of improvement, this option should be considered with great care. Your gastroenterologist and surgeon will certainly discuss all options with you.


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