Have you ever suffered from heartburn? That burning sensation in your chest or throat can be very unsettling. Many times, you can taste the stomach fluid in the back of your mouth. If this is something you experience more than twice a week, there’s a chance that you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
GERD is a digestive disorder affecting the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is the ring of muscle between the esophagus and the stomach. This common and chronic disease affects up to 1 in 5 or more adults in the U.S according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases.
In many cases GERD may be relieved through some diet and lifestyle changes. In other cases, some medication or surgery may be required to treat the symptoms.
Certain foods can also contribute to GERD. Fried foods, chocolate, garlic, onions, spicy foods, tomatoes, citrusy fruits and mint can cause GERD. This condition occurs when the LES weakens or doesn’t relax properly, which will cause the contents in the stomach to travel up into the esophagus.
With normal digestion, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) opens up to allow the food to pass through the stomach and it closes to prevent food and the acidic stomach juices from traveling back into the esophagus.
Heartburn is one of the most common symptom of GERD, which is a discomfort that is felt behind the breastbone as a burning sensation. The feeling may intensify if the person lies down or bends over after eating food.
Other symptoms include:
• Regurgitation of acid up into the throat.
• Bitter taste in mouth.
• Stubborn dry cough.
• Tightness in the throat.
• Feeling as though a piece of food is stuck in the throat.
If left untreated, GERD can lead to other serious conditions which may include:
• Esophagitis - inflammation of the esophagus.
• Esophageal stricture – narrowing of the esophagus, making it difficult to swallow.
• Barrett’s esophagus- cells that line the esophagus change into cells similar to the lining of the intestine, which can turn into cancer.
There are several different ways that GERD is often treated. Typically it will be treated with medication first. If the medication is not effective, other lines of treatment will be offered to the patient.
One of the main treatment options for those who suffer from GERD are proton pump inhibitors. These inhibitors work to decrease the amount of acid that is produced by the stomach. If a person has made significant lifestyle changes and their GERD symptoms continue, physicians may recommend surgery options.
Today, there are multiple surgical options now available for the treatment of GERD.
Nissen fundoplication: It is the traditional approach where the surgeon wraps the upper part of the stomach around the esophagus forming a new valve to prevent GERD.
LINX procedure: Newer procedure which involves placing “magnets” around the lower part of the esophagus forming a new valve mechanism to prevent GERD. This procedure has a lot of advantages compared to the nissen fundoplication.
TIF procedure: New edoscopic procedure which places sutures around the lower part of the esophagus.
Radiofrequency: Process of using radiofrequency or heat to scar in the lower part of the gastroesophageal junction to prevent GERD.
Simple lifestyle and behavior changes can aid in relieving GERD.
• Eating food in moderation and avoiding overeating.
• No eating within two to three hours of your bedtime.
• Quit smoking.
• Maintain a healthy weight.
• Sleep with your head slightly elevated when going to bed.
If you believe that you may be suffering from GERD, you should see your family or general practitioner, who will be able to refer you to a gastroenterologist. To learn more visit surgicalspecialistsofatlanta.com.
Dr. Thomas Wood is a board-certified surgeon with Surgical Specialists of Atlanta, a Northside Network provider. Dr. Wood is trained in the latest robotic and laparoscopic surgical techniques and specializes in treatment of adrenal gland, appendix, breast, cancer, colon, gallbladder, hepatobiliary, hernia, liver, melanoma, pancreas, thyroid and parathyroid, spleen, rectum, stomach and reflux conditions.