Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), is a chronic acid-reflux condition that occurs when stomach acids flow back into the esophagus. The acids cause discomfort to the lining of the throat, therefore causing GERD symptoms. GERD is a very well known disease and millions of people are commonly affected by the symptoms. The severity of GERD can be different for everyone ranging from simple heartburn to significant health problems.
The main symptoms of GERD are persistent acid-reflux/heartburn, difficulty/painful swallowing, feeling of a lump in the throat, regurgitation, and chest pain. Heartburn is an uncomfortable burning sensation within the chest. Occasionally the discomfort is accompanied by the rising of acid reflux into the esophagus. Difficulty or painful swallowing comes from irritation of the throat caused by the acids. Chest pains feel like it spreads across the chest and can easily be confused as heart attack symptoms. The feeling of a lump in the throat is caused by damaged scar tissue in the esophagus which narrows the food passage way.
There are other conditions similar to the symptoms of GERD such as peptic ulcer disease, infections of the esophagus, and cancer. GERD is normally a persistent feeling of heartburn, chest pain, and acid reflux. For example, a person with heartburn once a week may not have GERD, whereas a person with heartburn for several hours a day consistently may have a diagnosis of GERD. Occasional heartburn can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that reduce stomach acids and a change of diet. However, if the feeling of heartburn, and other conditions described, is persistent for more than 2 weeks, schedule an appointment with a doctor.
Other reason to contact a doctor immediately: chest pain with accompanying sweat, shallow breathing, shoulder or arm pain, dizziness, or vomiting/passing of blood. While chest pain is a symptom of GERD, it is very important not to confuse the pain with real heart attack symptoms.
GERD symptoms can be prevented by making simple lifestyle changes. A change of diet or food choice. Avoid spicy foods, which are the common cause of heartburn. Smoking and drinking alcohol can also cause GERD symptoms. Changing these behaviors can make a difference in a person's lifestyle. Avoid chocolate or mint since these cause heartburn as well. Lose weight if necessary and avoid tight fitting pants that add pressure to the stomach.
An Endoscopy test can be administered by a doctor to look at the inside of a patient's esophagus, stomach, and small intestine to study any possible problems. This test is normally given to patients who have a hard time swallowing. The endoscope is a skinny and long device, inserted through the nose, with a small camera at the end of the device. A Manometry test can be given to test how well the muscles in the throat move food. PH monitoring is a test used to monitor how often a patient has acid reflux and how long the acid stays in the esophagus.
To relieve occasional heartburn and discomforts, OTC drugs can be used. Products such as Pepcid AC and Prilosec are among the most popular for relief of acid reflux. Zantec 75, Acid AR, and Tagmet HB are available OTC. These medications may be used for temporary relief of heartburn, indigestion, and acid-flux; however, they should not be taken for more than the time instructed in the directions, unless prescribed by an doctor. If problems persists or does not improve while taking these medications, stop taking and arrange an appointment with a doctor.