November 19-25 is GERD Awareness Week, and if you have been suffering from heartburn and just “living with it,” ignore it no longer. GERD is a common illness with over half of all Americans experiencing some symptoms. The good news is that it is treatable, and early treatment will help protect you from significant health problems in the future.
GERD At A Glance
Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD is a chronic form of acid reflux where reflux is happening once to twice a week. It is marked by heartburn or pain in the chest that occurs because of stomach acids backing up into the esophagus. Symptoms frequently worsen when lying down or after eating certain types of foods. Typical reflux-causing foods are citrus, spicy, fatty, and greasy food. Chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol have also been shown to aggravate symptoms of GERD. In addition to heartburn, many people with GERD report feelings of nausea, food or bile moving up into the throat or actually vomiting, sore or irritated throat, and a bitter taste in the mouth. Risk factors of GERD include obesity, especially when the weight is concentrated around the waistline, family history of GERD, and pregnancy. If left untreated, GERD can cause damage to the esophagus that leads to significant problems like long-term inflammation, pain, and sometimes cancer.
Because treatment is so important in reducing the damaging effects of GERD, it is important to understand the options. Most cases of GERD can be effectively treated through changes in activity and food choices. Simple things like eliminating problem foods, waiting at least three hours to lie down after eating, being careful to eat slowly, and avoid overeating may be enough to provide considerable relief. If you are overweight and experiencing reflux symptoms, taking steps to lose weight will go a long way in treating your GERD. In some instances, additional treatment is necessary to alleviate the symptoms. This can include basic over-the-counter medications like antacids such as Tums or Rolaids, medications that reduce acid production, or medications that both block acid production and work to heal the tissue in the esophagus. Over-the-counter medications are designed to be used in the short term, long term use should be used under the supervision of a physician. In more serious cases, your doctor may recommend prescription-strength medications. In determining whether medication is the best route for you, your doctor will want to conduct an exam, discuss potential side effects, and possibly run some additional testing. Depending on the severity of your GERD symptoms and the effectiveness of other treatments, your doctor may advise a surgical option. Usually, surgery for GERD is minimally invasive and can be done in an outpatient procedure.
GER vs. GERD In Children
The days of your infant spitting up can cause concern, especially for new parents. You may be wondering if this is normal or a sign that something is wrong. Maybe someone has even suggested that your little one may need treatment for acid reflux. Technically, spit-up is because of the movement of liquid from the stomach into the esophagus and is, therefore, gastroesophageal reflux. However, this condition in infants is not considered a disease, so it is referred to as GER rather than GERD. GER usually goes away between nine and twelve months of age and doesn’t carry any other significant symptoms. The simple act of burping your baby after feeding can be enough to relieve an upset stomach that may result from reflux. You might also try elevating your baby’s head while sleeping and making sure that he or she sits upright for a good amount of time after eating. There are some warning signs to watch for that may require attention. These signs include your baby refusing to eat, crying as if in pain while eating, forceful spit-up, swollen belly, or wheezing. It is also a good idea to have your baby examined if even mild symptoms seems to worsen. If your baby is suffering from GERD, there are mild medications available, and your doctor can help determine if this would be helpful for your child. Children are not just miniature adults. Their illnesses and gastrointestinal issues require a special touch and special training. GI Associates has a dedicated pediatric department specializing in the treatment of gastrointestinal issues in children. Check out our checklist on when it’s time to call a specialist. If you or your child experience severe chest pain, difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, or dizziness, seek medical help immediately.
If you are experiencing symptoms of GERD and are wondering what to do next, make an appointment with GI Associates today.