Understanding GERD: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is sometimes simply referred to as “reflux.” For those who suffer from this ailment, though, it’s not so simple. Those who have GERD often describe it “like a burning sensation, worse than heartburn, in my chest.” The condition involves acid from the stomach entering the esophagus. The good news: there are an increasing number of safe remedies available. The bad news: ignoring this condition may make it worse. Almost everyone experiences gastroesophageal reflux at some time. The usual symptom is heartburn, an uncomfortable burning sensation behind the breastbone, most commonly occurring after a meal. In some individuals reflux is frequent or severe enough to cause more significant problems and to be considered a disease. When it reaches that point, it is a medical condition called GERD. So GERD isn’t just “something you ate.” It’s a real disease and a real problem for millions of sufferers.

If you’ve never experienced heartburn, count yourself among the luckiest of eaters. Most of us, however, have occasionally overdone it with the pizza or other spicy, greasy food, and paid the price: that burning feeling in your chest after you’ve eaten. As the song goes, “Oops, I did it again!”

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, known as GERD, is more than ordinary heartburn. It occurs when an individual suffers repeatedly from stomach acid entering the esophagus. The acid may irritate or even damage the inside of the esophagus, leading to coughing and/or hoarseness, as well as severe pain. The burning may be so severe that patients can think they are having a heart attack. Other symptoms include difficulty in swallowing and/or a sore throat. In some cases, the acid may rise to the mouth, resulting in harm to the enamel of the teeth. Although GERD is more common in adults over age 40, it can impact children.

Although the ailment does not have the same triggers in all individuals, common culprits include spicy foods, citrus foods, tomatoes and tomato products, chocolate, peppermint, coffee, and chocolate. Excessively large meals can cause GERD to worsen (beware the traditional Thanksgiving dinner!), and lying down right after eating also can make symptoms more painful.

If you think that you have GERD, the first step in ending your pain is to visit your doctor. Before your visit, jot down notes about how frequently you experience heartburn and what triggers, if any, you have observed. For example, if you notice that you experience severe heartburn after eating citrus foods, include that in your food journal. Such information will be useful to your physician. Depending on the results of the doctor’s examination, you may be given a prescription or recommendation for an over-the-counter remedy. Your physician may also recommend lifestyle changes, such as staying upright for several hours after a meal and/or raising the head of your bed.

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