Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)


Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is more commonly known as acid indigestion or heartburn. It can be characterized by a burning feeling behind the breastbone which can move up into the throat and give a sour or bitter taste in the mouth. GERD is caused by stomach acid moving from your stomach up into your esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). This may happen if the muscle between the stomach and esophagus is weak. There are conditions that may aggravate this and they include diabetes, pregnancy, and medications used to treat high blood pressure and heart conditions. GERD is very common. About 5% of individuals have symptoms every day. About 15% have symptoms every week. Almost half of all individuals have symptoms at least once a month. 

GERD is diagnosed most commonly by history. The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. The burning, pressure or pain of GERD can last as long as 1 or 2 hours and is often worse after eating. Lying down or bending over can also make the pain worse. The pain associated with heartburn can be mistaken for the pain of a heart attack or angina. It is sometimes difficult to determine the difference and tests may be necessary to determine this. 

In most cases, GERD can be relieved through diet and lifestyle modifications. For immediate relief, antacids can neutralize the acid and stop heartburn. However, there are side effects with the long-term use of antacids. These include diarrhea, altered calcium metabolism, and excess magnesium buildup in the body. Over-the-counter and prescription strength histamine-2 (H2) blockers such as Pepcid, Tagament, and Zantac are available. These medications inhibit the secretion of acid by the stomach. Prevacid and Prilosec are another type of prescription drug called proton pump inhibitors. These drugs inhibit an enzyme needed for acid secretion. Other drugs are available to strengthen the muscle and quicken stomach emptying. A small number of individuals may need surgery because of severe GERD or poor response to medications. The surgical procedure increases the pressure in the lower esophagus, preventing acid from backing up from the stomach.








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