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You've Got That Burning Feeling — Is it GERD?

Aug 02, 2017 02:00PM ● Published by Caley Breese

By Caley Breese

The feeling of heartburn can be a pain in the neck—or shall we say, a pain in the throat. Heartburn is a very common feeling among adults, but what if what you’re experiencing is not actually heartburn, but gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD?

GERD is a chronic digestive disease, and it occurs when the acid from the stomach flows backwards and up into the esophagus, often manifesting itself as heartburn or regurgitation.

“When you swallow, food passes from the esophageal through the lower esophageal sphincter into the stomach,” Dr. Raja Taunk, M.D., of Anne Arundel Gastroenterology Associates, explains. “If the sphincter is weak or relaxes abnormally, an abnormal amount of reflux occurs.”

We reached out to local experts to get the 4-1-1 on GERD, and what you can look out for in terms of causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Causes and Symptoms

GERD can affect anyone, as it can be developed at every age. However, there are certain causes that can potentially make you more prone to developing GERD, such as a diet high in greasy or spicy foods (or both!), caffeine, citrusy foods, pregnancy, being overweight, smoking, alcohol, or a hiatal hernia.

A distinguishable symptom often associated with GERD is heartburn. If you feel a burning sensation in your chest more than twice a week, it’s possible that it could be GERD, so it’s best to follow-up with your doctor about what you’re experiencing. Other symptoms of GERD include difficulty in swallowing or frequent belching, regurgitation, dry cough, and a hoarseness and sensation of a lump in your throat.

“The most debilitating symptoms depend on the patient. It is important to seek out a medical provider if you have any of these symptoms. Often times, an upper endoscopy is warranted to evaluate for a pre-cancerous condition known as Barrett’s Esophagus,” Taunk clarifies.

Holistic Treatment Approaches

While there is no “cure” per se for GERD, it is a condition that can be treated and managed to resolve symptoms and heal the esophagus from possible inflammation or irritation affected by the reflux of the stomach acid.

If you’ve experienced any of the symptoms associated with GERD, it is recommended to try some lifestyle changes in order to help.

“Lifestyle modification is the cornerstone for treatment of GERD,” Moncheri Adebayo, CRNP, of Woodholme Gastroenterology Associates, says. “Patients should avoid any trigger foods or beverages which include fatty foods, spicy foods, milk, caffeine, chocolate, peppermint, citrus, tomato-based products, and alcohol. We also suggest [avoiding] eating large meals or meals three hours before bedtime.”

If applicable, weight loss and quitting smoking are also suggested for the treatment of GERD. Additionally, according to the American College of Gastroenterology, raising the head of your bed approximately four to six inches in order to sleep more upright can also help.

Treatment News

While you can make lifestyle adjustments to treat GERD, it may not be enough sometimes. This is when medication comes into play to rid those frustrating symptoms.

“Although lifestyle changes are ideal for treatment of GERD, there are two classes of medications used for GERD treatment: H2 blockers and Proton Pump Inhibitors,” Adebayo explains.

H2 blockers and Proton Pump Inhibitors, or PPIs, work to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach and to heal the esophagus. However, the American College of Gastroenterology says that H2 blockers are typically for individuals with milder forms of GERD, and can often be found over-the-counter, as well as by prescription. Some H2 blocker medications include Zantac, Pepcid, and Axid. PPIs help with more severe forms of GERD, and those medications include Prilosec, Prevacid, and Nexium.

Lifestyle changes and medications are the first line of defense when treating GERD; however, in very serious cases, surgery may be an option.

“There is little in the way of future drug research for GERD, as PPIs are very effective. However, there are endoluminal therapies as well as surgical options to treat GERD in addition to the use of medications such as PPI and H2 blockers,” Taunk explains. “There are some novel endoscopic techniques that are being utilized by gastroenterologists as well for GERD.”

If you find yourself constantly having heartburn or uncomfortable sensations in your throat, or a dry cough, don’t feel helpless. Take some time to see a medical professional about what you’re experiencing, and to find the best treatment option for you.

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