Acid Reflux Treatment at AGMG
Learn about Acid Reflux treatment from the doctors of Associated Gastroenterology
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a chronic medical condition caused by the flow of stomach contents into the esophagus resulting in symptoms. The two typical symptoms of GERD are heartburn (burning sensation behind the chest) and volume regurgitation (feeling of food or liquids coming back up from the stomach to the mouth). GERD is a very common medical condition that can cause painful symptoms and damage to the esophagus including cancer if not treated properly. The doctors at AGMG can properly diagnose GERD and provide lifestyle management options, medical or surgical therapy as indicated.
What is Acid Reflux?
The stomach produces acid (hydrochloric acid) to help breakdown food and liquids for digestion. The stomach is used to handling this acidic fluid while symptoms can develop if the acid fluid flows (refluxes) back up into the esophagus. The body has multiple barriers to prevent this happening but certain food items, lifestyle habits and anatomic issues can weaken these barriers. For most this reflux of fluid can cause symptoms but in some patients acid reflux can result in damage to the esophagus such as ulcers, narrowing or even cancer.
Are Acid Reflux, GERD and Heartburn the same?
These terms are often used interchangeably but they actually have very different meanings. GERD is the disease or diagnosis defined as regular symptoms caused by the flow of gastric contents into the esophagus. Heartburn is just one of the symptoms of GERD. Acid reflux is the pathophysiology or reason why patients have GERD. There is is actually nonacid reflux that can be seen in GERD as well.
Symptoms of GERD include:
- Heartburn - burning sensation behind the breast bone
- Regurgitation – feeling of food or fluids coming back up towards the mouth
- Sour taste in the mouth
- Chronic cough or throat clearing
- Waking up in the middle of the night
- Difficulty swallowing or feeling like food gets stuck
- Raspy Voice
When Should I Seek Acid Reflux Treatment?
Heartburn is a very common symptom. In fact, it is thought that over 40% of people have had heartburn at some point in their life such as after a spicy meal, a big pizza or during pregnancy. In these cases, treatment with an antacid is appropriate.
However, you should seek medical care if you experience:
- Severe symptoms that recur
- Very frequent symptoms (multiple days per week)
- Trouble swallowing or feeling like food is getting stuck
- Unintentional weight loss
- Vomiting blood or passing blood in the stool
- Family history of Barrett’s Esophagus or Esophageal cancer.
Acid Reflux Treatment Options
Treatment of GERD is a combination of lifestyle changes, medicines and even sometimes surgical procedures
- Weight loss if appropriate
- Raising the head of your bed by 6-8 inches (wedge, wood blocks or inclined mattress)
- Avoiding certain foods (coffee, chocolate, alcohol, spicy foods, fatty foods)
- Limit alcohol
- Stop smoking
- Avoid lying down for at least 3 hours after you eat
- Antacids – effective for rare or mild symptoms. Short acting
- Histamine blockers – effective for rare or mild symptoms. Short acting
- Proton pump inhibitors – the most effective class of medications for GERD. Work by reducing acid production in the stomach. Strongly indicated for patients who have had damage to the esophagus from acid reflux.
- Device implantation – there are medical devices that can be inserted to strengthen the barrier at the bottom of the esophagus helping to prevent acid reflux
- Fundoplication – the top of the stomach is wrapped around the bottom of the esophagus to strengthen the barrier and prevent acid reflux
Frequently Asked Questions
GERD is a common medical condition. It is actually the most common GI complaint seen in the doctor’s office. For the vast majority of patients, GERD causes symptoms which can be painful or bothersome to patients but without damage to the esophagus. However, there are a select group of patients where acid reflux can result in serious or permanent damage to the esophagus. This damage includes ulcers, narrowing, pre-cancer changes or even esophageal cancer.
GERD is a chronic medical condition that is often a weight related disease. A patient who is obese is 3x more likely to have GERD than someone who is normal weight. As such, the best lifestyle change a patient can make is to lose weight. Losing weight can result in a cure of GERD. Aside from weight loss, avoiding certain foods can be effective in symptom control. Unfortunately most patients with GERD will need medicines indefinitely for treatment of their disease. Surgery can often be a very effective long term treatment for GERD but there are risks and benefits that need to be discussed with your doctor.
GERD is caused by the flow of gastric contents from the stomach into the esophagus. Certain foods, increased abdominal pressure from pregnancy or obesity or anatomic issues such as hernias weaken the esophageal barrier and allow the contents to flow back into the esophagus.