GERD, also called acid reflux, is a fairly common problem among our patients. Most people will only experience it every once in a while, but some suffer from it much more frequently. GERD came become a serious problem that requires treatment. GERD is so common that we want to make sure everyone understands it and knows when it is time for medical help.
What causes GERD?
GERD occurs when acid and the other contents of the stomach enter the esophagus. The top of the stomach includes a valve that should stop that from happening, but for GERD sufferers, it may not be working properly.
Many factors can contribute to GERD. Obesity is one of the biggest factors, as is hiatal hernia. Even pregnancy can make it more likely. Other lifestyle factors, such as smoking and the certain types of foods an individual consumes can also play a role.
What are the symptoms?
We generally diagnose GERD based on the patient’s symptoms. They tend to be fairly consistent and recognizable, which makes it easy for patients to watch for them on their own.
The clearest sign of GERD is frequent heartburn. Experiencing it on rare occasions isn’t necessarily a sign of a problem, but experiencing it on a regular basis is a big deal. Experiencing heartburn twice a week or more is considered consistent and regular.
Many patients also develop a sore throat as a result of stomach acid being present in their esophagus. Some also feel as if there is a lump in their throat, and it can be hard for them to swallow. Chest pain is also a fairly common complaint. Acid that goes up as far as the mouth can lead to damaged teeth and bad breath.
GERD indicates a problem with the digestive system, so nausea and vomiting are also common symptoms. There can be further complications if stomach acid spreads outside of the digestive system, such as into the lungs, which can lead to asthma, coughing, losing your voice, or even pneumonia.
It is important to remember that these symptoms are not universal. It is possible to develop GERD without experiencing all of them. When in doubt, it is best to see your doctor to check for problems.
When does GERD need treatment?
We generally encourage people to check in with their doctors whenever they have a concern about their health, but it can be helpful to know when GERD is turning from an annoyance into a serious problem. The most basic rule of thumb is to seek medical help if you experience heartburn at least twice per week on a regular basis, especially if the heartburn is particularly intense or lasts for a long time.
We also advise you to check in with your doctor if the discomfort is having a negative impact on your life. For example, some people who suffer from it at night find that they have trouble sleeping. It can also make it harder to get work done or enjoy a good time with your friends. Those difficulties tend to create new mental, social, or even physical problems of over time, so it is best to get help to resolve them as quickly as possible.
How we treat GERD
There are a few ways to treat GERD. We can use medications to neutralize stomach acid or help to reduce acid production over time. That medication is normally enough, but some cases do call for surgery to prevent acid from coming up in the first place. The details will vary depending on the details of the case, so it is important to get a full medical examination to figure out what kind of treatment is necessary and best for your individual needs.