Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a digestive disorder that affects the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) muscles between the esophagus and the stomach.
Normally, LES allows unidirectional passage of food, i.e., when we swallow the food, it goes down all the way to the stomach and the muscles prevent anything in the backward direction.
How Is GERD Treated?
However, with the ‘reflux’ disorder, the LES is weak enough to control this action causing food and digestive juices to flow back into the esophagus.
GERD symptoms that need attention
The most common symptom of GERD is acid indigestion, where people usually feel a burning sensation or pressure in the heart, moving upward to the throat. It can last for almost 2 hours. Many mistake it as a cause of heart disease or heart attack. Apart from heartburn pain, there can be nausea, trouble in swallowing, lump feeling in the throat, recurrent vomiting, coughing, breathing problems that worsen, laryngitis, problems of bad breath, and sleep disturbances.
Medications for GERD
Gastroesophageal disorder is quite common amongst adults. Even infants and children can suffer from the ill effects. Hence, doctors often prescribe medications over the counter to reduce the reflux or the damage caused by the acid attacks on the esophagus.
- Antacids- These drugs give a temporary solution to the uneasiness. Many people take them without any prescriptions. These drugs normally neutralize the acid in the oesophageal and stomach region giving a soothing effect. However, too much of these can have side effects and could cause diarrhoea, changes in calcium metabolism and magnesium build up.
- H2 blockers- Sometimes the problems can be chronic and the doctor might suggest H2 blockers that block the stomach from secreting acids. Drugs likecimetide (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid) and nizatidine can be taken.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PIPs)- These are drugs also called acid pumps that interferes with the proteins that help in producing the stomach acids. Dexlansoprazole (Dexialant), esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazol (Prevacid), omeprazole (Zegerid), pantoprazole (Protonix) and rabeprazole (Aciphex) are some of the drugs.
When GERD gets severe
Reflux disorder is usually treated with across-the-counter medications. However, there are instances where simple treatments do not bring results. People with hiatal hernia, where the upper part of the stomach protrudes into the chest through a small opening in the diaphragm, can sometimes aggravate the situation. Surgery is the only treatment then. Before the surgery, the doctor would ask the patients for tests like endoscopy, upper GI series, esophageal manometry, and impedance study, and pH testing for better diagnosis. Once the diagnosis is over, surgery follows. Anyone can be suggested.
- Transoral incisionless fundoplication (TIF)
- Stretta procedure
- LINX surgery
Diet and lifestyle changes to prevent GERD
GERD can get complicated by damaging the inner linings of the esophagus causing cancers. They can also aggravate breathing problems as they can affect lung functions. So, simple changes in the diet and lifestyle plans can help us prevent such severity of the disease.
- Food should be eaten slowly and chewed properly.
- Small servings of food are recommended at meal times. This helps in proper digestion. Also a gap of at least 2-3 hours between meal time and bed time is suggested. This helps the food utilize the acid for digestion and empty the stomach.
- Food and beverages that cause the lower oesophageal sphincter muscles to relax like chocolate, caffeine containing drinks, peppermint, fatty food and alcohol. Also, food that can irritate and damage oesophageal linings like citrus fruit juices, pepper and tomato should also be avoided.
- It is said that raising the head by at least 6 inches while sleeping can lessen the reflux of stomach contents into the food pipe. However, this should not be done with pillows instead wedges should be used to raise the bed height.
- Loose fitting clothes should be worn
- Maintaining a healthy weight is good for this condition as obesity can worsen the reflux conditions.
- Smoking should be avoided as it is said to weaken the LES.
- Sometimes acupuncture can reduce GERD problems but it needs more evidence.
Gastroesophageal reflux disorder is a common disease that is often treated by non-prescription across-the-counter medications and people might not take it too seriously. Some may visit cardiologists thinking it to be a heart condition. But, whatever the situation is, consulting a doctor is always the best option.
You can also read: What Causes Asthma And How To Manage It?