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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, commonly known as GERD, is a chronic digestive disorder that occurs when stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus, causing irritation and inflammation of the esophageal lining. GERD is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide, and it can range from mild to severe.
When we eat, food travels down the esophagus and into the stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a muscle at the bottom of the esophagus that prevents stomach acid from flowing back up into the esophagus. In people with GERD, the LES is weakened or relaxed, allowing stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus.
- Heartburn: a burning sensation in the chest that often occurs after eating, especially after consuming acidic or spicy foods, or when lying down.
- Regurgitation: the sensation of stomach acid or food coming back up into the throat or mouth.
- Difficulty swallowing: a feeling of food getting stuck in the throat, or the need to drink water in order to swallow food.
- Chest pain or discomfort: a feeling of pressure, tightness, or squeezing in the chest that can be mistaken for a heart attack.
- Chronic cough: a persistent cough that may be triggered by acid reflux.
- Sore throat or hoarseness: inflammation of the throat or vocal cords, which may be caused by stomach acid entering the esophagus and throat.
- Nausea: a feeling of queasiness or an upset stomach that can be triggered by acid reflux.
- Obesity: excess body weight can put pressure on the stomach, causing stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus.
- Hiatal hernia: a condition where part of the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm and into the chest cavity, which can weaken the LES and cause acid reflux.
- Pregnancy: hormonal changes and the growing uterus can put pressure on the stomach and weaken the LES, causing acid reflux.
- Smoking: smoking can weaken the LES and increase stomach acid production, leading to acid reflux.
- Certain medications: some medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and blood pressure medications, can irritate the esophagus and increase the risk of acid reflux.
- Eating habits: consuming large meals or eating too quickly can put pressure on the stomach and increase the risk of acid reflux. Eating certain trigger foods, such as spicy or acidic foods, can also increase the risk of acid reflux.
Medical conditions: certain medical conditions, such as scleroderma, gastroparesis, and Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, can increase the risk of acid reflux.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Can GERD be cured?
While GERD cannot be cured, it can be managed with lifestyle modifications, medications, and in some cases, surgery. By controlling symptoms, individuals with GERD can prevent complications and improve their quality of life.
Can GERD lead to other health problems?
If left untreated, GERD can lead to complications such as esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus), strictures (narrowing of the esophagus), and Barrett's esophagus (a precancerous condition). It's important to seek treatment if you experience frequent symptoms of acid reflux.
What are some common triggers of GERD?
Common triggers of GERD include fatty or fried foods, chocolate, caffeine, spicy foods, citrus fruits, and tomatoes. Alcohol and smoking can also exacerbate symptoms.