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Many people experience reflux—episodes when the stomach’s contents wash back up into the esophagus or mouth. In most people, these episodes are brief and do not cause ongoing problems. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when reflux occurs regularly, when the reflux is highly acidic, or when the esophagus cannot clear itself of the backwash quickly enough, and the reflux causes bothersome symptoms.
Most people do not develop serious problems from GERD, but it can cause severe esophageal injury in some people, and the condition should not be ignored. Long-term, untreated GERD can cause these conditions:
GERD has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, affecting an estimated 20% of adults, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. The good news is that you may be able to control GERD through lifestyle and diet changes, and that effective treatments are available for more difficult cases.
The esophagus is the muscular tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach. At the bottom of the esophagus is a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES opens to let food and liquid enter the stomach and then closes to prevent stomach contents from flowing back into the esophagus. GERD can occur if the LES becomes weak or does not work properly.
Another condition that can cause or worsen GERD is hiatal hernia, which weakens the LES. A hiatal hernia is a condition where a portion of the upper stomach migrates into the chest cavity. Over time, the hernia can become very large. In serious cases, the entire stomach can migrate into the chest.
People with GERD often experience heartburn—a burning sensation in the center of the chest—at least two or three times a week. Although heartburn may be the most noticeable symptom of GERD, there are several other symptoms:
Taking over-the-counter or prescription drugs for GERD may relieve the symptoms of heartburn associated with this disorder, but these medications do not solve the real problem—reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus.
Norton Thoracic Institute (NTI) is a leader in diagnosing and treating GERD. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent or reduce injury to the esophagus. If you have signs of GERD, the esophageal experts at NTI may use some of the following tests to evaluate your condition:
The specialists at Norton Thoracic Institute recommend the following lifestyle and diet changes as the first line of defense against GERD:
For many people, these changes will limit the backwash of stomach contents into the esophagus at night, which is when the greatest damage occurs.
If you continue to experience reflux despite lifestyle and diet changes, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following:
You can take steps to control GERD.
Most individuals with GERD are successfully treated with acid blocking medications such as proton pump inhibitors (PPI). However, nearly 30% of individuals on PPI medication continue to suffer from symptoms. If you or a loved one between the ages of 22 and 75 suffers from chronic reflux, take PPI medication, and continue to suffer from reflux symptoms, consider participating in the LESS GERD TRIAL. Click here to learn more about the LESS GERD TRIAL.
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