Persistent heartburn occurring two or more days a week and having lasted for at least three months may be the result of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease otherwise known as GERD, acid reflux disease or simply good old fashioned heartburn, is a bother to many today.
GERD occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) fails to remain completely closed. The resulting opening in the lower esophageal sphincter allows acid from the stomach to regurgitate or flow backwards into the esophagus, the tube leading from the throat to the stomach. This regurgitation of stomach acid can cause frequent and persistent heartburn, often lasting two hours or more.
Although many sufferers of persistent heartburn report episodes of GERD occurring at night while lying down, there are others who report more occurrences during the day, especially after eating a large meal or a meal high in acid or fat content. Some gastroenterologists suggest that sleeping with the head of the bed elevated approximately six inches can help to prevent nighttime acid reflux.
Other symptoms associated with GERD include a burning in the back of the throat, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, pain with swallowing, hoarseness, throat irritation, bitter or acidic taste in the mouth or even an inflammation of the throat and esophagus.
It is critical to remember that the chest pain associated with GERD or acid reflux disease can mimic the symptoms of a heart attack. For example, both acid reflux and a heart attack can cause chest pain which may be either sharp or dull and can radiate into the back, the arms and the neck. Ignoring these symptoms is foolish and dangerous. The cause of chest pain must be determined by a physician or healthcare provider. Simply assuming that chest pain is a result of heartburn without confirmation from a professional should never occur.
Smoking, caffeine, hormones, chocolates, peppermint, tight clothing, certain medications, obesity, pregnancy, and even certain body positions have all been identified as GERD triggers. Many of these triggers are avoidable or even controllable making it easier to manage acid reflux disease with lifestyle modifications.
GERD may often be accompanied by a hiatal hernia. Defined as a protrusion of a portion of the stomach through the esophageal hiatus, an opening in the diaphragm, which leads into the chest, a hiatal hernia can certainly contribute to the onset and severity of GERD. A hiatal hernia is thought to allow the lower esophageal sphincter to relax and thereby keep the esophagus from emptying completely. A hiatal hernia may also contribute to esophagitis, an erosion of the lining of the esophagus from excessive stomach acid and gastric enzymes, because of the over exposure of sensitive tissues to stomach acid.
Lifestyle modifications, diet and over the counter medications are generally the first line of treatment offered by healthcare providers once a diagnosis of GERD has been confirmed. However, if the acid reflux cannot be controlled by these methods prescription strength medications may be ordered. Surgical intervention is often viewed as a last resort to manage gastroesophageal reflux disease.
GERD is a disease which can cause long term damage if left untreated. There are non-invasive options available to treat and hopefully eliminate acid reflux before it has a chance to cause long lasting harm.