National GERD Awareness Week is recognized annually during the week of Thanksgiving – a time when many Americans may experience heartburn associated with overeating and overindulging. But, if heartburn occurs more frequently, or is associated with additional symptoms, it may be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which elevates the importance of early detection and diagnosis.
An estimated 1 in every 5 American adults suffers from GERD, which is a chronic, anatomical condition caused by changes in the gastroesophageal valve (GEV) that allow contents to irregularly flow from the stomach backup into the esophagus. When ignored or left undiagnosed or untreated, GERD can be a lifelong disease that can lead to bothersome mild to severe symptoms.
Early GERD diagnosis, and treatment can assist in halting, delaying, or preventing disease progression into potentially more serious disease states, such as developing Barrett’s Esophagus (BE) and/or Esophageal Cancer.
Typical symptoms can include:
- A burning sensation in the chest (heartburn), regurgitation of food or
sour liquid (acid reflux) and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
Atypical symptoms can include:
- Sensation of a lump in the throat (globus), shortness of breath / asthma,
chronic dry cough, chronic sore throat, laryngitis and hoarseness, sleep disruptions, dental erosions and
non-cardiac chest pain etc.
GERD is not an acid problem; it is an anatomical issue. The acid our stomach produces is important for digestion; killing harmful bacteria and helping with the absorption of electrolytes and other nutrients from the foods we consume. GERD occurs when the valve between the stomach and the esophagus is not working properly and fails to keep contents in the stomach from washing back up into
the esophagus. Medications may offer mild to intermittent symptom control, but they do not stop or prevent reflux.
GERD can lead to more serious health complications including:
- Damage to the throat or esophagus
- Inflammation or narrowing of the esophagus
- Respiratory complications
- Barrett’s Esophagus
- Esophageal cancer
If you are reaching for antacids more than twice a week, it’s time to see a gastroenterologist. If your current medications aren’t working well enough, there are alternative endoscopic therapies like the TIF procedure for reflux that could be right for you. There are more treatment options for GERD/Reflux than ever before, and a qualified GERD/Reflux expert can help you in determining the best treatment suited to
your individual needs.