Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder in which the stomach acid flows backs into the esophagus (food pipe) causing a burning pain and irritation. Acid reflux is also called as heart burn, pyrosis or acid indigestion. It is one of the common gut complaints most people experience and is not dangerous; chronic heartburn can lead to serious other complications if left untreated.
Acid reflux is seen in people of all ages. Lifestyle, dietary habits, pregnancy, certain medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, smoking, alcohol, carbonated drinks, and beverages, obesity, snacking close to bedtime, and excess acid production in the stomach are the common causes of acid reflux in the majority of people. Hiatal Hernia is another disease condition which is believed to cause acid reflux in certain patients. Hiatal Hernia is a condition where the upper part of the stomach protrudes up above the diaphragm causing the hydrochloric acid to enter into the esophagus.
Heartburn, nausea, and regurgitation (a bitter-tasting acid backing up into your throat and mouth) are the common symptoms of acid reflux. Other symptoms are bloating, vomiting, burping, hiccups, persistent dry cough, wheezing, hoarseness, sore throat, trouble swallowing, dental erosion. etc.
If the symptoms of acid reflux interfere with daily routine it is time to see your physician. Acid reflux is relatively easy to diagnose, however, they are often confused with ailments such as heart attack, pneumonia, and pulmonary embolus. Specific tests include:
1.Barium swallow - Patients swallow barium fluid and X-rays of barium-filled esophagus are taken then; this will reveal ulcers or narrowing of esophagus.
2.pH monitoring - A thin tube is placed down into the esophagus for 24hours to check the amount of acid produced in the stomach.
3.Esophageal manometry - checks the function of the esophagus and lower esophageal sphincter. The test can be performed alongside the 24 hour pH monitoring.
4.Endoscopy - Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy is a common means to check for GERD. A tube containing an optical system for visualization will help examining the esophagus, stomach and duodenum for any ulcers or erosions.
5.Impedance monitoring - measures the rate of fluid movement along the esophagus.
6.Biopsy - takes a tissue sample for laboratory examination to confirm infection or tissue level aberrations.
One of the effective means to treat acid reflux is embracing dietary changes.
Life style changes to adapt include:
1. Eat smaller meals
2. Quit smoking and drinking alcohol and carbonated beverages
3. Elevation of upper body at night. Gravity helps prevent acid reflux
4. Not eating within 3 hours of bedtime
5. Avoid fatty, greasy and spicy foods
6. Avoid caffeine and mint flavored foods
7. Stop wearing tight clothes at night
8. Take steps to reduce overweight
9. Maintain good posture - stand upright or sit up straight
Medications used in acid reflux treatment are:
1. OTC treatments - antacids
2. Alginate drugs
3. H2 blockers- cimetidine, ranitidine, and famotidine
4. Foaming agents to coat the stomach
5. Proton pump inhibitors
If life style changes and medications are ineffective in giving a cure, the doctor might suggest a surgery.