Digestion is how your body processes the food and drink you consume into the nutrients you need for many bodily functions. Stomach acid is a part of breaking things down. To process the variety of fibrous, meaty foods we eat, the acid has to be strong and sustain at specific levels to stay healthy (measured by the pH balance in your stomach). pH ranges that are too high or too low can create other problems.
Affecting millions of people, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a mild or severe chronic acid reflux condition that irritates your throat (esophagus). This common gastrointestinal disorder affects nearly 28 percent of American adults, but it can be managed and treated.
Patients looking for relief from GERD can get help from Dr. Rajesh Mehta and the skilled medical team at Lonestar Gastroenterology in Austin, Texas. Here, we examine the condition to understand how the illness works, its causes and symptoms, and what we can do to treat it.
When you swallow food, your lower esophageal sphincter (a circular band of muscles located at the bottom of your esophagus) allows food and drink to pass into your stomach so the gastric acids can do their work. When this happens, the sphincter closes, which keeps the volatile process of breaking down food confined to the stomach. However, if those muscles abnormally relax or weaken, the stomach acids can get into your esophagus, which causes inflammation in the lining of your throat known as acid reflux. GERD is a chronic variation of this condition, which can happen at least twice a week.
Several factors contribute to GERD, such as abdominal pressure, obesity, pregnancy, specific foods, some medications, connective tissue disorders, and a hiatal hernia. Other factors that can exacerbate GERD include smoking, eating large meals or too late at night, and certain foods, drinks, and medications (fatty foods, alcohol, coffee, and aspirin).
Dealing with GERD will cause you to experience symptoms like heartburn, regurgitation, feeling like there’s food caught in your throat, coughing, chest pain, problems swallowing, vomiting, sore throat, and hoarseness. Long-term issues with GERD can lead to complications like esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, esophageal cancer, and strictures.
Treating GERD can be accomplished in several different ways. Over-the-counter medications (Maalox®, Rolaids®, Mylanta®, Tums®) or some prescription medications that reduce acid production can help mild to moderate GERD. Also, changes in eating and lifestyle habits such as reducing foods that trigger reflux, eating slowly and thoroughly, maintaining a healthy weight, and quitting smoking can lessen GERD symptoms.
Surgical options are available if other methods fail. For example, laparoscopic antireflux surgery creates a new valve mechanism in your lower esophageal sphincter. Or another option is the implantation of a LINX device (a ring of tiny magnets) to help the sphincter function properly.
GERD can be challenging to your digestive system, but help is available to reduce symptoms and be healthier. If you’re ready for relief, make an appointment with Dr. Mehta and LoneStar Gastroenterology to address your acid reflux and GERD issues today.