Heartburn—that painful, burning sensation in the middle of the chest as stomach acid rises into the esophagus—is familiar to many people as a once-in-a-while occurrence. Others, however, suffer from more frequent bouts of acid reflux that may mean they have gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD.
At Gateway Gastroenterology in Chesterfield, Missouri, our experts specialize in diagnosing and treating GERD as well as a wide range of other digestive and liver conditions. We know it can be easy to dismiss gastroesophageal reflux disease as nothing more than an unpleasant experience, but there are important facts to know about this condition, including ways to decrease the frequency of acid reflux and the benefits of getting proper treatment for GERD to prevent complications.
Acid reflux occurs when acid in the stomach moves back into the esophagus and irritates its lining. When this happens frequently—at least twice a week over several weeks—it might be GERD.
GERD affects about one in five adults as well as one in 10 children. Symptoms may include regurgitation of acid, food, or liquid into the throat after eating; a burning feeling in the esophagus or pain in the chest; nausea, or a sore throat or hoarseness. Asthma-like symptoms may also occur.
GERD results when the valve at the bottom of the esophagus weakens or doesn't close all the way and allows the acid to come back up. People who are obese or pregnant, have a hiatal hernia, a connective tissue disorder, or suffer from delayed stomach emptying are particularly at risk.
Fortunately, you can take steps to reduce bouts of acid reflux. These include not having large meals or eating late at night, avoiding fatty or fried foods, and not drinking alcohol or coffee. Some medications, such as aspirin, can increase the risk, as can smoking.
Chronic acid reflux can result in damage to the esophageal tissue, including inflammation, bleeding, and, in some cases, ulcers. Scar tissue can form and narrow the esophagus, making swallowing difficult. Finally, acid damage can affect the tissue lining the lower esophagus, which can cause an increased risk of esophageal cancer.
When we suspect acid reflux, we may recommend an endoscopy. This test uses a camera on a small, flexible tube to view the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. We can see any damage or abnormalities and can make a firm diagnosis.
Initially, our recommendations may include lifestyle changes like losing weight, if appropriate, and medication to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. If these steps do not provide relief, we customize an additional treatment strategy to each patient and their situation.
If you're struggling with frequent bouts of acid reflux, it's important to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Click our request button, or call us at 314-529-4900 today to make an appointment.