WHAT IS GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also called GERD for short, consists of chronic backward flow of stomach content, including acid, into the esophagus. GERD can result in burning in the chest, neck or throat (heartburn), and a bitter or sour taste in the mouth. Some people describe the sensation as indigestion or acid reflux
WHAT SYMPTOMS SHOULD I TELL MY DOCTOR ABOUT?
- Burning in the chest, neck, or throat
- Pain in the chest that develops after a meal
- Sour or bitter taste in the mouth after meals or upon laying down
- Feeling like food is trapped or stuck in the chest
- Vomiting blood or having black, tar-like bowel movements (less common)
- Choking sensation (less common)
- Unexplained weight loss (less common)
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT GERD?
- Reduce consumption of foods and beverages that worsen symptoms of acid indigestion
- carbonated and alcoholic beverages
- Elevate the head of your bed on bricks or blocks of wood if you experience heartburn at night
- Do not lie down within 2 to 3 hours after eating
- If you are overweight, begin a weight reduction program
- Take an over the counter antacid or an H2 blocker. If your heartburn improves, you likely have GERD
- Contact your gastroenterologist about a prescription medication for GERD, and testing if necessary
WHAT CAN HAPPEN IF SYMPTOMS ARE LEFT UNTREATED?
Refluxed stomach acid that touches the lining of the esophagus can cause heartburn and damage the cells in the esophagus. This can cause damage to the lining, with rawness and even ulcers.
When the rawness and esophageal lining damage from GERD heals, the scarring can cause narrowing of the lumen of the esophagus (the "open cavity" through which food travels) called a stricture. This can make food stick or hang up in the chest.
Untreated GERD can cause chest symptoms that can feel like a heart attack.
In some genetically predisposed individuals, the cells lining the esophagus can change into a more acid resistant type of lining, more like that seen in the stomach. This change, called intestinal metaplasia, can be detected by biopsy. When this change occurs, the condition is known as Barrett’s Esophagus. Long periods of exposure to stomach acid is required for Barrett’s esophagus to develop, and this condition is more common in males, Caucasian race, smokers, and those who are obese. A very small number of patients with Barrett’s esophagus can go on to develop cancer of the esophagus over time.
GERD rarely causes bleeding.