What is GERD (Acid Reflux)?
Acid reflux, commonly experienced as heartburn or regurgitation, occurs when stomach fluids back up, or reflux, into the esophagus due to a weakened esophageal sphincter, exposing it to gastric acid and other contents. There are a variety of things that can weaken your esophageal sphincter, including:
- Being Overweight
- Smoking or regular exposure to second-hand smoke
- Hiatal Hernia
GERD affects people differently and involves symptoms which vary from mild to moderate or severe. Mild sufferers may experience occasional bouts of heartburn. Patients with more severe reflux can experience heartburn daily. Other patients never experience heartburn but may have symptoms such as asthma, chronic cough, hoarseness, or chest pain due to persistent reflux.
Certain foods and beverages can trigger GERD. Some of the more common food triggers include fried or fatty foods, citrus, and chocolate. Coffee, carbonated beverages, and drinks containing alcohol can also be a problem for people with GERD. While occasional reflux is normal, for some it can be frequent and severe enough to impact daily life.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also abbreviated to GERD, is frequent or chronic reflux, with symptoms happening at least twice a week. In the United States, nearly 20 percent of the adult population experiences GERD symptoms regularly. When left untreated, it can lead to serious issues such as inflammation, irritation or swelling of the esophagus. This condition, known as esophagitis, can be accompanied by more concerning complications such as ulcers, bleeding or precancerous changes.
Most people with mild GERD can successfully control symptoms through dietary and lifestyle changes. Sometimes people begin using over the counter and/or prescribed medicines. For patients who experience inadequate relief and/or side effects from medication, surgical intervention may be appropriate.
In addition, surgery may be suitable for patients who have any of the following:
- Concerns about the long-term side effects or costs associated with medication
- Certain complications of GERD (e.g. Barrett’s esophagus, narrowing of the inside space of the esophagus)
- atypical symptoms of GERD from regurgitation (e.g. asthma, hoarseness, cough, chest pain, aspiration)
What to do next
If you are experiencing reflux symptoms and have not yet visited your primary care provider, make an appointment to discuss what options might be right for you to find relief. You can find a primary care provider by visiting our Provider Page.
If you are already taking PPI medications or daily over the counter medications and not experiencing full relief, or are a patient worried about the long-term effects of your medications or changes to your esophagus as a result of continued GERD, ask your provider about a referral to our General Surgery clinic for an evaluation appointment.