Gastro esophageal reflux disease, known by the acronym GERD, is a problem that involves stomach acid making its way up into a person's esophagus where it can damage the lining. GERD often results when a valve-like muscle known as the lower esophageal sphincter malfunctions and allows the contents of a person's stomach to flow back into the lower esophagus. The symptoms of GERD are characterized by pain in the esophagus, but there are a number of treatments for this condition.
The most recognized GERD symptom is heartburn, a burning sensation that develops in the area beneath the breastbone and sometimes moves up the esophagus. This is the result of the stomach acid irritating the lining of the esophagus. In addition to heartburn, there can be some regurgitation of stomach acid, which leaves a sour taste in the person's mouth. Dysphagia describes the difficulty that some people with GERD experience, when swallowing is difficult or very painful due to the lining being damaged. Chest pain, hoarseness, and the feeling that something may be stuck in the throat are also common GERD symptoms.
Mild GERD Treatment
When GERD results in mild symptoms, over-the-counter solutions are available. Antacids such as Rolaids, Tums, and Maalox attempt to neutralize the acid in the stomach and give rapid relief, but they cannot heal any damage done to the esophageal lining. Medicines called H-2-receptor blockers like Tagamet HB and Pepcid AC can inhibit acid production. They do not provide quick relief but are longer lasting than antacids and should be taken before a meal. Proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec effectively block the production of acids and give the esophagus a chance to heal from the effects of GERD.
Moderate to severe cases of GERD require stronger medications to combat the effects of the condition. Prescription drugs can control symptoms of GERD and give the embattled esophagus a chance to heal. Most of the over-the-counter drugs available to treat mild GERD are also available at prescription strength. In addition, medications called prokinetic agents cause the stomach empty much more quickly, making it harder for the contents to flow back into the esophagus. These drugs can also help the lower esophageal sphincter work properly, but they can be accompanied by some powerful side effects, including nausea and dizziness.
Surgery is sometimes an option to treat GERD and its unpleasant symptoms. It is employed when medications fail to produce results or cause side effects that cannot be tolerated. When GERD causes complications, such as bleeding of the esophagus, narrowing of the esophagus, or pneumonia and bronchitis resulting from acid reflux, surgery may be considered. Surgery to treat GERD involves attempting to "tighten up" the esophageal sphincter, a procedure called a Nissen fundoplication. Other procedures for GERD are done to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter.
An endocinch endoluminal gastroplication is a procedure that employs the use of a tool that resembles a very small sewing machine. It actually puts stitches into the stomach near where the esophageal sphincter is weakened. When the suturing materials are tied together, they create a barrier that helps keep stomach acid from making its way back up the esophagus. The Stretta procedure uses energy waves to create scar tissue in the esophagus, making the effects of GERD less painful.