What causes GERD?
Reflux refers to a reverse flow of the stomach’s contents into the esophagus. Stomach contents contain acid and chemicals to digest food. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a valve located between the esophagus and stomach. It normally prevents back flow from the stomach.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when the LES is weak, allowing the acidic gastric juice to back flow into the esophagus. This can lead to injury to the lining of the lower esophagus (called esophagitis).
Do I have GERD?
If you think you may have GERD, ask yourself these questions:
- Do I have heartburn more than twice a week?
- Do I often have an acidic taste in my mouth?
- Are my symptoms worse when I eat, lie down, bend over or do physical activity?
- Are my symptoms affecting my job, social life, sleep patterns?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you may have GERD and you are not alone.
Who gets GERD?
Approximately 5 million Canadians are living with GERD. Many suffer in silence and do not seek medical attention. They are embarrassed or blame themselves. This needs to stop.
Twenty-five percent of pregnant women experience daily heartburn, and more than 50% have occasional distress. Recent studies show that GERD in infants and children is more common than previously thought and may produce repeated vomiting, coughing and other respiratory problems, or failure to grow.
The costs of GERD
GERD impacts work, sleep, relationships and quality of life. It can also put you at risk for other more serious complications.
People suffering from GERD are absent from work 16% of each year and are 8 times less productive while at work because of their symptoms.
Annual sales of prescription and over-the-counter antacids and anti-ulcer drugs hover around $2 billion in Canada.
Symptoms of GERD vary from person to person but may include:
- Regurgitation (fluid or food in the mouth that has refluxed up from the stomach)
- Hoarseness, cough, asthma, lung infection
- Weight loss
- Problems swallowing
- Vomiting, including bringing up blood
- Black, tarry stools
In children, GERD may produce repeated vomiting, coughing and other respiratory problems, or failure to grow.
Tests & diagnosis
If you suffer from GERD, it is not your fault and you need medical attention
Many people blame themselves for their GERD symptoms. They believe that what they eat or drink is to blame rather than a medical condition that needs attention. In many cases, what you ingest can exacerbate symptoms but if you suffer from GERD, it is not your fault and you need medical attention.
Recognizing symptoms and speaking with your doctor is the first step. Your physician may prescribe several tests that will lead to a correct diagnosis.
The diagnosis of GERD is primarily made on the basis of symptoms.
Depending on the cause, severity and pattern of your GERD symptoms, different medications may offer relief.
It is important to remember that although you may not be able to prevent GERD, there are several things you can do to minimize the severity of your symptoms:
- Maintain a healthy weight (or lose weight if you need to). Excess weight puts pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and contributes to reflux.
- Don’t smoke. It relaxes the LES and increases acid production.
- Learn how certain foods may affect your body. Foods that seem to precipitate or worsen reflux include alcohol, peppermint, greasy or spicy foods, tomatoes, fatty foods, citrus foods, caffeine products (including coffee and chocolate), and sugared drinks. Different food will affect different people in different ways. Pay attention to what your body is telling you.
- Eat small, frequent meals.
- Stop eating 3 – 4 hours before bed.
- Discontinuing drugs that may worsen injury to the stomach, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), sometimes helps. Be sure to speak with your doctor before starting or stopping NSAID use if you are diagnosed with GERD.
- Raise the head of the bed or elevate the upper body with a foam wedge and try lying on your left rather than the right side
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Information for this section is provided by the Canadian Digestive Health Foundation (CDHF). The CDHF provides trusted, unbiased, science-based information that empowers people like you to take control of your digestive health with confidence and optimism. To learn more, please visit: www.CDHF.ca.
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