What is it?
GERD is an abbreviation for gastroesophageal reflux disease, a condition that refers to damage to the lining of the lower esophagus (the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach). GERD occurs as a result of frequent or prolonged exposure to stomach acid.
What are the symptoms?
The primary symptom is acid reflux (also known as heartburn), which is felt as a burning sensation in the pit of the stomach or in the middle of the chest beneath the breastbone.
Symptoms are usually experienced after eating and are most often triggered by fried, fatty foods, tomato products, citrus fruits and juices, chocolate and anything containing caffeine.
People with acid reflux may also experience a feeling of regurgitation (food coming back into the mouth) after eating and a bitter or acid taste.
Other symptoms include chest pain, difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting or bad breath.
Lying down or bending over makes the symptoms worse.
How is it treated?
Usually with a combination of lifestyle changes and medications. Your physician may recommend over-the-counter antacids with common names such as Tagamet®, Zantac®, Pepcid®, Axid®, and Prilosec OTC.
It is also very common for physicians to prescribe stronger medications known as proton pump inhibitors for control of reflux symptoms with common names such as Prilosec®, Nexium®, Zegerid®, Protonix®, Aciphex®, and Prevacid®.
Are there any complications?
Over time, inflammation can make swallowing painful and even cause a buildup of scar tissue, which narrows the opening of the esophagus and can interfere with eating solid food. If left untreated, this can lead to ulcers, bleeding and further complications.
Another complication of prolonged acid exposure is called Barrett’s esophagus, in which the cells in the lining of the lower esophagus change to resemble those found in the intestines. Patients with this condition may experience an improvement in their heartburn symptoms, but they are at greater risk for esophageal cancer.
Are there risks associated with proton pump inhibitor use?
There have been studies citing a possible link between the use of proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and various medical problems.
Based on recommendations from experts in the field, the benefits of PPI use still outweigh the risks, although it is always advisable to use the lowest effective dose for the shortest period of time.
Most patients only require these medications episodically, but some patients suffer from more chronic conditions, requiring prolonged use of medications. For these patients, the benefits of preventing more serious complications such as ulcers, swallowing trouble, and esophageal cancer outweigh the risks of PPI use.