If you frequently feel a burning sensation in your neck or throat, you should find out more about GERD.
This acronym stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease, a long term for a digestive disorder. It occurs when stomach acid or stomach contents backs up into the esophagus, the tube that carries liquids, foods and saliva from your mouth to your stomach. This causes irritation of the esophagus lining.
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Pain you can’t ignore
Heartburn is a common symptom most people experience, but when this symptom occurs at least twice a week or interferes with daily life you may have GERD.
A muscle at the bottom of the esophagus opens to let food into the stomach and closes to keep it there. When this muscle relaxes too often or for too long, acid backs up into your esophagus. You feel this as heartburn and something you can’t ignore.
Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a specialist in digestive system disorders. This doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, your overall health and your family health history.
Watch for symptoms
Almost everyone gets heartburn occasionally, often because of something they ate. But if you’re experiencing this burning pain regularly, get it checked out. Other symptoms that could be related to GERD include food coming up into the esophagus, difficulty swallowing or a feeling of food getting stuck, excessive salivation, painful swallowing, feeling a lump in the throat or nausea.
“We can usually treat most cases of GERD fairly easily as long as you don’t wait for months or even years before seeing your doctor,” said Pamela Banerjee, a Marshfield Clinic nurse practitioner in gastroenterology. “Left unchecked, GERD can cause permanent damage to the esophagus or lungs, making it more difficult to swallow and breathe. It can even lead to cancer of the esophagus, something you definitely want to avoid.”
Try lifestyle changes first
Your provider may first recommend lifestyle changes that may improve GERD symptoms. These include maintaining a healthy body weight by not overeating, especially at night; avoiding chocolate, fatty or spicy foods; not drinking carbonated or caffeinated beverages and alcohol; and smoking cessation.
“We find these practical steps can help many of our GERD patients,” Banerjee said.
Others may need a fuller evaluation and specialized testing like passing a camera into the esophagus, stomach and small intestine to locate the problem and see how advanced it is.
Your doctor could prescribe medications, suggest ongoing monitoring or consider surgery as an option to correct the problem. This will depend on how serious the situation may be, Banerjee said.