Affecting nearly 20 percent of adults in America, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition that creates a painful symptom of heartburn. Over $9 billion is spent on this condition in the U.S., with half of these costs going on medications. People who suffer from GERD are trying to combat the heartburn they experience through prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Even though heartburn is one of the most common symptoms of GERD, there are a range of other symptoms that can be experienced on a daily basis. And, if left untreated, GERD can cause some severe health complications.

The Cause of GERD

To protect your windpipe and lungs when you swallow food, a complex set of muscles in the tongue and mouth close off this area so food moves into the esophagus (which is connected to the stomach). A ring of muscles called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) are located at the bottom of the esophagus. This helps to push your food into the stomach but in a GERD patient, these muscles have relaxed, which means stomach acid can enter the esophagus. It is this that causes the painful burning sensation many sufferers experience.

Even though the stomach lining is resilient towards this acid, the esophagus isn’t. This means that over time the esophageal tissue can become damaged, and with the acid often backing up towards the mouth, other structures can be injured along the way too.

Complications of GERD

There are several complications of GERD, these include:

Barrett’s Esophagus (BE): Often caused by the irritation of GERD, this is a condition where the lining of the esophagus becomes like that of the intestines and stomach. Due to the abnormal changes in the esophagus cells, BE increases the risk of esophageal cancer. 55 is the average age of diagnosis.

Erosive Esophagitis: This condition arises as a result of the inflammation and irritation caused by the acid, which injures the esophagus. Those at risk of developing this are generally obese, with Caucasian males being at even higher risk.

Stricture: Severe injuries can be sustained to the esophagus over time, which can result in a narrow band, which is known as a stricture. This, in turn, can result in dysphagia (visit to learn more) which can sometimes prevent the other symptoms of GERD from occurring as it stops acid from traveling up the esophagus.

Dental Damage: As this acid can travel all the way up to the mouth, it can often lead to the tooth enamel being eroded. Asthma: Both GERD and asthma often occur together and researchers believe that this because of the acid backing up the esophagus which leads to asthmatic conditions due to a change in the immune system. As the acid reflux can also irritate the lungs and airways, this can increase the symptoms of asthma.

GERD and Reversing the Damaged Caused

A lot of people who have GERD will experience mild symptoms and with some simple lifestyle changes, these can be treated successfully. Eating smaller portions during mealtimes, losing weight and quitting smoking are all beneficial changes you can make when suffering from this condition.

Equally, there are a number of foods that can trigger GERD, and avoiding these may also help to bring you relief from the symptoms. These include tomato sauce, spearmint, peppermint, onions, garlic, fatty and fried foods, chocolate, fizzy drinks, coffee, citrus fruits and alcohol.

By adapting to these lifestyle changes, it will normally allow your body to heal itself. In the majority of cases, this will often mean that there won’t be any long-term damage suffered to the teeth, throat or esophagus. However, in the more severe of cases, GERD will often need to be treated with medication.

The most common types of medications include proton pump inhibitors (Prilosec, generally known as omeprazole; Prevacid, generally known as lansoprazole); a motility agent (Reglan, generally known as metoclopramide); H2-blockers or a histamine H2-receptor antagonist (Zantac, generally known as ranitidine; Pepcid, generally known as famotidine); a coating agent (Carafate, generally known as sucralfate) and antacids.

Should you find that you don’t respond well to any of these treatments, many GERD patients find that surgery can provide an effective treatment. As soon as GERD is under control, any further damage to the teeth, throat or esophagus will be prevented.

The Outlook for GERD Patients

Even though GERD can affect your lifestyle and be incredibly painful, it doesn’t affect your lifespan. Patients who are able to resolve the symptoms they suffer from GERD are able to resume a healthy and normal life.

Abigail Manning was diagnosed with GERD 2 years ago. She wants to promote this health problem and help other sufferers deal with it. Read her articles on health and lifestyle blogs.


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