Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) awareness week takes place every year from November 18 to November 24, to encourage people having the symptoms, which may be GERD-related, to consult a doctor. Many people go through digestive disorders everyday and this is a very common problem. But, if you experience signs of acid reflux more than two-three weeks, you might have a health condition called Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acid reflux happens when acid flows from your stomach to the esophagus or basically the tube connecting the mouth and stomach. It can cause a lot of discomfort and irritation to an individual. GERD differs from mild to severe in condition depending on how many times are you experiencing this acid reflux. Onlymyhealth editorial team spoke to Dr. Ajay Kumar, Chairman and HOD, Institute of Digestive and Liver Diseases at BLK Super Specialty Hospital and a Patron of SeekMed, about the symptoms, causes and treatment of Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms
This disease is because of normal reflux of gastric, i.e the stomach contents move to esophagus because of abnormal laxity of a valve which is at the junction of the esophagus and stomach. This results in abnormal exposure of the esophagus to the gastric acid. As per Dr. Ajay Kumar, here are the major symptoms of GERD:
1. Heart burn
The patients will have a retrosternal burning sensation. The build-up of stomach acid can surely cause heartburn. The severity varies from person to person.
2. Bleeding in esophagus
If there are complications and if the disease is real, it can lead onto the bleeding from the esophagus. Though not very common but can happen.
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3. Difficulty in swallowing food
If it's a swell, it can lead onto the narrowing of the food pipe because of which patients have difficulty in swallowing food. In medical terms, it is called dysphagia.
4. Barrett's esophagus
Some of the patients are associated with another disease called Barrett's esophagus. In this, the lining of the esophagus is replaced from normal squamous epithelium to columnar epithelium. The importance of this is that if it is a Barrett's esophagus, then in small percentage of chances there could be a risk of cancer.
If the reflux is more, then something comes up at about which we call regurgitation. The gastric contents and sore products may come in the mouth. Sometimes the regurgitation is more, this can go into the windpipe and can cause cough, bleeding and infections.
Causes of GERD
Basic fault is that the valve is weak in the junction of the esophagus and stomach. There are certain things which are predisposed. Below mentioned are some of the main causes of GERD:
The most important thing behind GERD is obesity. The excess belly fat causes pressure on the stomach. And, the development of a hiatal hernia mostly happens to individuals who are obese.
2. Certain foods
Certain food products can also be a cause behind gastroesophageal acid reflux. They include too much of oily food, excess of cola drinks, tea, coffee, chocolate, candies and so on.
And another strong risk factor is smoking. It further relaxes the gastroesophageal gland. So the whole treatment is also centred on these precipitating events to improve the lifestyle .
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As mentioned above, the treatment is based on improving the existing lifestyle. The doctors mostly advice patients to exercise and reduce weight. They also suggest them to have small frequent meals. Like, they should have two hours interval between meals and going to bed. They should also avoid excess of fried food, cola drinks, tea, coffee, chocolate, candies and so on. And, smoking should be totally stopped. These are the lifestyle modifications which doctors like to advise to every patient of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Dr. Ajay Kumar said, "Medications are given when a person is not able to take care with the lifestyle and the key medicine is a group of medicines called proton pump inhibitors. The basic function of that is to cut down the acid production in the stomach. It's taken once a day before breakfast and usually it takes a couple of months or two to three months to heal. Almost 70% of them require medicinal treatment, because once we heal it and do not follow the lifestyle modifications, so these symptoms will keep on coming back so then they require this for many years. In small percentage, not in everybody, lifestyle modifications can be used as a treatment. But even if you use medicines, these lifestyle modifications will cause better relief, lesser use of medicines and so on. Moreover, family history per se cannot be the cause. But if the family has same kind of lifestyle, same food consumption, then they will have more symptoms like that."
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