Don’t Let GERD Stop You From Enjoying The Holidays

GERD Awareness Week is Nov. 24-30; recognize the symptoms and know when to see a doctor
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National GERD Awareness Week is November 24-30, and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) urges individuals who suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, to seek medical diagnosis and treatment to make their holidays and every day comfortable and symptom-free. Before sitting down to a big holiday meal, here are a few things to know about GERD.

What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when contents in the stomach, particularly gastric acid, flow back into the esophagus. This happens when the valve between the stomach and the esophagus, known as the lower esophageal sphincter, is unable to keep the stomach contents from reaching the esophagus.

What causes GERD? 
GERD is caused when there is an imbalance between the normal defense mechanisms of the esophagus and offensive factors such as acid and other digestive juices and enzymes in the stomach. Often, the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus is impaired by weakening of the muscle (lower esophageal sphincter) or the presence of a hiatal hernia, where part of the stomach is displaced into the chest. Hiatal hernias, however, are common and not all people with a hiatal hernia have reflux. A major contributor to reflux is obesity; when a person is significantly overweight, increased pressure in the abdomen can overwhelm the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus. Obesity, pregnancy, smoking, excess alcohol use and consumption of foods such as coffee, citrus drinks, tomato-based products, chocolate, peppermint, and fatty foods may also contribute to reflux symptoms.

What are the symptoms of GERD? 
Common symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease are heartburn and/or acid regurgitation. Heartburn is a burning sensation felt behind the breast bone that occurs when stomach contents irritate the normal lining of the esophagus. Acid regurgitation is the sensation of stomach fluid coming up through the chest and sometimes into the mouth. Less common symptoms that may also be associated with gastroesophageal reflux include unexplained chest pain, wheezing, and sore throat and cough, among others. If the GERD is severe, you might experience trouble swallowing, which is a symptom that should be evaluated by a gastroenterologist.

Do you have GERD?

If you answer “yes” to two or more of the following questions, you may have GERD.

1. Do you frequently have one or more of the following?

  •   *An uncomfortable feeling behind the breast bone that seems to be moving upward from the stomach?
  •   *A burning sensation in the back of your throat?
  •   *A bitter acid taste in your mouth?
     

2. Do you often experience these problems after meals?

3. Do you experience heartburn or acid indigestion two or more times per week?

4. Do you find that antacids only provide temporary relief from your symptoms?

5. Do you take prescription medication to treat heartburn but still have symptoms?

Can it be prevented or treated?
If you suspect you or a loved one may have GERD, the first step is to consult your healthcare provider or a gastrointestinal specialist to obtain an accurate diagnosis. A gastroenterologist is a specialist physician who diagnoses and treats diseases of the digestive tract, such as GERD. Work in partnership with your physician to initiate the best available treatment plan.

Treatment options can include lifestyle modifications, medication, surgery, or a combination of methods. Many over-the-counter medications provide temporary symptom relief but may not prevent recurrence of symptoms or allow an injured esophagus to heal. If you feel that you need medications on a regular basis, for more than two weeks, you should consult a physician for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment, as other serious conditions could coexist.

Enjoy your holidays and every day
Seek diagnosis and treatment if symptoms occur on a regular basis. Your gastroenterologist can help you enjoy your holidays and every day by defining your discomfort and providing treatment designed for you. For more information on GERD and to find a gastroenterologist in your area who can diagnose and treat you or a loved one, visit www.asge.org.