GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is unfortunately all too common in America – one in five adults suffer from it. Its symptoms are often burning chest pain and indigestion, which can be brought on by overeating (a holiday tradition for many). However, because its symptoms are so commonplace, GERD often goes undiagnosed.
The reflux you experience around the holidays is likely due to your diet and not the stress from family visiting. And it makes sense – National Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (or “GERD”) Awareness Week falls on Nov. 20-26, 2022. American holiday celebrations often involve overeating, sugary desserts, and alcohol–all of which can lead to GERD symptoms.
The holiday season can often make GERD symptoms worse. Therefore, it’s the perfect time to learn more about this issue and how to treat it effectively.
Acid reflux is common for most people at some point in life. Having occasional acid reflux and heartburn are expected. But, if you have symptoms more than twice a week over several weeks and constantly take medications and antacids with returning symptoms, you may have developed GERD.
What is Chronic acid Reflux (GERD)
If you have GERD, acid-containing stomach contents regularly leak back into your esophagus.
Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), occurs when a valve at the end of your esophagus doesn’t close properly. This causes food and stomach acid to regurgitate back into your throat and mouth, giving you a sour taste.
Acid reflux is common for most people at some point in life. Having occasional acid reflux and heartburn are expected. But, if you have symptoms more than twice a week over several weeks and constantly take medications and antacids with returning symptoms, you may have developed GERD. Your healthcare provider should treat your GERD to relieve symptoms and prevent serious complications.
Can GERD be life-threatening?
Although GERD is not deadly, it can cause serious health problems if left untreated.
- Esophagitis: Esophagitis is the irritation and inflammation that stomach acid causes in the esophagus lining. Esophagitis can provoke ulcers, heartburn, chest pain, bleeding, and trouble swallowing.
- Barrett’s esophagus: For people with long-term GERD, Barrett’s esophagus is a condition that develops in about 10% of cases. The damage caused by acid reflux over time can change the cells lining the esophagus, making them more susceptible to cancer.
- Esophageal cancer: Two types of cancer start in the esophagus. Adenocarcinoma is more likely to occur in the lower part of the esophagus and can develop from Barrett’s esophagus. Squamous cell carcinoma, on the other hand, starts in cells that line the esophagus and usually affect its upper and middle section.
- Strictures: The lining of the esophagus can sometimes become damaged and scarred, which then causes the narrowing of the esophagus. These strictures make it challenging to eat and drink because food and liquid cannot reach the stomach anymore.
Common symptoms of GERD?
The most frequent indications are:
- A sensation of food caught in your throat
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sore throat
Is it heartburn or a heart attack?
Heartburn-induced chest pain can be scary because you may think you have a heart attack. Even though heartburn has nothing to do with your heart, it’s difficult to tell the difference when you’re experiencing discomfort in your chest. However, there are critical differences between the symptoms of a heart attack and those of heartburn.
Heartburn is an uncomfortable burning or pain in your chest that can extend to your neck and throat. A heart attack may cause symptoms such as pain in the arms, neck, and jaw, trouble breathing, sweating, nausea, dizziness, extreme fatigue, and anxiety. Call medical professionals immediately if heartburn medicines don’t help relieve chest pain accompanied by these other signs.
Your physician can often determine if you have uncomplicated acid reflux by conversing with you about your symptoms and medical history. You and your gastroenterologist can work together to speak about managing your symptoms through diet and medications.
If the above strategies don’t improve your symptoms, your doctors may want to test for GERD. Tests for GERD include:
- Upper gastrointestinal GI endoscopy and biopsy: After your provider inserts an endoscope (a long tube with a light) through your mouth and throat, they will look at the lining of your upper GI tract. They may also take out a tiny bit of tissue (biopsy).
- Upper GI series: The upper GI tract X-ray will show any GERD-related problems. You drink barium, a liquid that outlines your tract on the X-ray.
- Esophageal pH/impedance monitoring and Bravo wireless esophageal pH monitoring measure the pH in your esophagus. Your physician inserts a thin tube through your nose or mouth. Afterward, you’re released with a tracker that measures and records your pH.
- Esophageal manometry: Which measures the lower esophageal sphincter. Your provider will insert a tiny, flexible tube with sensors into your nose, which captures data on the strength of your sphincter, muscles, and spasms when you swallow.
GERD symptom prevention
The following tips may help to prevent GERD symptoms:
- Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
- You will improve your metabolism by eating small meals throughout the day instead of large amounts a few times.
- Cut down on butter, oils, salad dressings, gravy, and fatty meats to reduce fat. Also, consume dairy products that are lower in fat, such as sour cream, cheese, and whole milk.
- It is essential to sit up straight while eating and stay in an upright position (sitting or standing) for 45 to 60 minutes after you finish your meal.
- Eat dinner earlier to allow your body ample time to digest before sleep. Going to bed right after eating can cause indigestion and disrupt your sleep.
- Avoid constrictive clothing around your waist. Too tight garments can compress your stomach, forcing acid into the esophagus.
- If you want a good night’s sleep, try propping up the head of your bed with wooden blocks. Extra pillows won’t do the trick.
- Quitting smoking. You’ll feel better and be healthier if you stop.
- Follow your healthcare provider’s directions when taking any prescribed medications, especially acid reducers.
- To avoid possible trigger foods, cut them out of your diet.
Food to avoid with GERD
Lifestyle choices, such as diet and eating habits, play an essential part in controlling GERD symptoms. Try to stay away from foods that trigger your heartburn episodes.
- Spicy foods
- Fried foods
- Fatty (including dairy) foods
- Tomato sauces
- Garlic and onions
- Alcohol, coffee, and carbonated drinks
- Citrus fruits
Document the specific foods that upset your stomach, and then speak with a medical professional about how to log this information, what other foods you should incorporate into your diet, and when the best times of day are to eat them.
When to get help?
Call your doctor if you get frequent acid reflux or heartburn that lasts for several weeks, even after taking medication.
GERD is awful, but there are ways to treat it, depending on the diagnosis. Schedule a doctor’s appointment at Gastro Florida.