Are you familiar with GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease? There is a significant chance that you or someone you know may experience it at some point. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, this condition affects up to 20% of the United States population. This common disease can cause great discomfort and even lead to serious complications, so it is important to understand what it is, how it is treated, and how you can prevent or treat it.
What is GERD?
GERD is characterized by experiencing symptoms of acid reflux more than twice a week on average. Acid reflux occurs when the contents of the stomach move up into the esophagus. This causes an individual to feel an uncomfortable burning sensation in the neck and chest that is usually referred to as heartburn. An accompanying symptom of acid reflux is a sour or bitter taste at the back of the throat. GERD can be diagnosed by a medical professional through a physical evaluation, which may include a barium swallow or an evaluation of the esophagus, which is a standard procedure known as an endoscopy.
What Are the Risk Factors and Complications?
Anyone can develop GERD at any point in their life, regardless of age. In fact, about two thirds of 4-month-old babies have symptoms of GERD since infants spit up so often. In young patients, GERD is often relatively minor and becomes less common with age, although the same cannot necessarily be said for adult patients. In adults, obesity, pregnancy, smoking, and the presence of a hiatal hernia are major causes of GERD. If not treated properly, GERD can lead to serious complications. Potential complications include esophagitis, or inflammation of the esophagus, esophageal cancer, asthma, and even dental problems such as tooth enamel erosion or gum disease.
How is GERD Prevented and Treated?
To prevent or mitigate the symptoms of GERD and its additional complications, an individual should take inventory of their lifestyle and make changes accordingly. From a dietary perspective, this can be achieved by simply keeping a food journal to document what one eats and how they feel afterwards. Certain types of foods and beverages can trigger symptoms of GERD in some people, though everyone is different. Some common dietary triggers include spicy foods, citrusy fruit, high-fat foods, alcohol, and soda. Many health professionals recommend lifestyle changes to manage GERD symptoms as well. Quitting smoking, exercising more to lose excess weight, and eating smaller meals may help. Stress and anxiety can also exacerbate symptoms of GERD, so activities focused on mindfulness and relaxation such as yoga and meditation can provide relief from this disease.
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