Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, is a long-term digestive disorder that causes a frequent burning sensation in your neck or throat called acid reflux. Many experience symptoms of heartburn when this happens.
GERD 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.
Almost everyone gets heartburn occasionally, often because of something they ate. However, if you are experiencing frequent heartburn and acid reflux on a regular basis, 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
- Painful swallowing
- Frequent burping
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Feeling a lump in the throat
- Chronic cough
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.
“We can treat most cases of GERD. If left unchecked, GERD can cause permanent damage to the esophagus due to difficulty swallowing, pain and bleeding. It can also increase the risk of cancer of the esophagus,” said Jennifer Clements, a Marshfield Clinic Health System nurse practitioner in gastroenterology.
Try lifestyle changes first
Your provider may first recommend lifestyle changes that may improve GERD symptoms. These include maintaining a healthy body weight, avoid eating large meals, avoid lying down for at least 2 to 3 hours after eating; avoidance of fatty or spicy foods, chocolate, alcohol, caffeinated and carbonated beverages, mint, citrus and tomato-based foods, spicy foods, fried and fatty foods; and smoking cessation.
“We know that these practical steps help many of our GERD patients,” Clements said.
There are also many treatment options available for GERD patients. Based on symptoms, Clements and other providers may advise the use of antacids, H2 blockers, or proton pump inhibitors.
Others may need additional evaluation and specialized testing, such as passing a camera into the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine to locate the problem and see how advanced it is. Also, if other treatments fail to relieve symptoms, surgery may be needed.