Nope. It’s probably GERD.
Many of us know the pain of heartburn, especially after a food binge (hush, we all do it). These small episodes are why Pepcid® and TUMS® take up real estate in our medicine cabinets. An occasional occurrence of reflux is simply called GER, or gastroesophageal reflux, and just refers to stomach acid that travels up the esophagus. You know that “I just threw up in my mouth” feeling? Yep, that’s part of GER.
When this condition goes from off-and-on grossness to persistent ick, however, it gets labeled GERD, gastroesophageal reflux disease, and it can be a game changer.
Common symptoms of GERD include:
- A burning sensation in your chest that may become worse at night
- Squeezing chest pain
- A dry cough, sore throat or chronic hoarseness
- Asthma, wheezing or chronic cough
- A bitter or acid taste in the mouth
- Difficulty swallowing or feeling like something is stuck in your throat
Why, oh, why?
In between your stomach and esophagus is a connective muscular ring called the “esophageal sphincter.” This ring is what keeps stomach acid from leaking into the esophagus. If the ring is formed abnormally or weakened, GERD begins. The more exposure to the acid, the weaker the sphincter becomes, and the disease progresses. Guys suffer more often from the disease because of that macho need to burp loud and proud and repeatedly, which overworks the muscle and causes it to become flaccid.
Risk factors for developing GERD include poor diet, pregnancy, obesity, hiatal hernia and delayed stomach emptying. Lifestyle factors that aggravate GERD include smoking, eating large meals later at night, a diet heavy in fried or fatty foods, too much alcohol or coffee and some medications, such as aspirin.
So, if you’re popping TUMS® like Skittles®, and your bottom desk drawer has been cleared for jumbo bottles of Pepto® — or even just treating OTC more than twice per week — you should make an appointment with your doctor. Keep in mind that, like most chronic illnesses, GERD doesn’t heed to a one-and-done treatment plan. Understanding your triggers is vital in making healthy choices and keeping GERD under control.
Because of its progressive nature, lifestyle changes will be high on the list of what to discuss with your doctor. For mild cases, such changes may nip it in the bud. Moderate GERD may need to add prescription meds to keep acid backup at bay. If symptoms aren’t controlled, the chronic acid and inflammation can cause precancerous lesions in the esophagus, aka Barrett’s esophagus.
Those with severe GERD that can’t be controlled with other options may need surgery to get their digestive system back on track. Most often a laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery, also called “Nissen fundoplication” (or, fondly, just “Nissen” by those who’ve undergone the procedure), is performed to tighten the misbehaving sphincter. Nissen is minimally invasive, quick and has a short recovery time. In addition, Hancock Health offers the innovative, no-cut TIF procedure, which uses endoscopy to enter the digestive tract through the mouth while the patient is under general anesthesia.
Obviously, we need to eat to live, so healthy digestion is important. But if you’re a GERD sufferer, you know that every meal can be a painful experience. It doesn’t have to stay this way. Our team at the Hancock Health Heartburn Center assists patients in identifying and treating their source of heartburn misery. Make some healthier choices and opt for effective treatment so you can get back to enjoying life — and FOOD — once again.