When we eat, the food passes through the esophagus to reach the stomach. Esophagus is an elongated tube that connects the throat to the stomach and has an opening at the end which is known as lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When food reaches the stomach, this valve closes. However, when it fails to do so, a person is said to have GERD or gastroesphageal reflux disease. When a person has GERD, it happens that the fluids in the stomach returns back to the esophagus, thus causing damage to its lining.
GERD can occur to people of all ages. It is commonly seen in pregnant women, obese people and also in people who indulge in smoking. Certain food stuffs like drinks that contain caffeine, spicy foods, oranges, pizzas, tomatoes, peppermint, chocolate, etc., also play a role in the occurrence of GERD. Sometimes, the LES and the upper region of the abdomen shifts its position by moving over the partition (diaphragm) that marks the end of the chest area and the beginning of the stomach area. This condition is called hiatal hernia and is also one of the cause of GERD.
Symptoms of GERD
The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. People having this disease experience a burning sensation along with pain in the middle of the chest, and also sometimes in the neck, stomach and back area. At times, people with GERD can also feel a sharp pain behind the breast bone (in the chest) which may seem like a heart attack. These symptoms usually occur after a person has taken his meals, more so when he lies down, because there is no gravitational force to push the acids in the stomach downwards. Most of us experience this kind of feeling sometime or the other, but that does not mean that we have GERD. Only when a person has heartburn frequently, it can be said that he or she has this disorder.
Regurgitation occurs when the fluid that is pushed back from the stomach reaches the mouth. In most patients, only a small amount of liquid is pushed back and so it only reaches the esophagus. However, sometimes it can happen that, food along with the fluids, reach the throat and even the mouth. When this happens, the individual senses an acidic and bitter taste in the mouth.
In certain cases, it has been experienced that patients have a hard time while swallowing food and sometimes they feel that something has got stuck in their throat. Many times, due to the presence of stomach fluids in the throat area, an individual may feel soreness or hoarseness. A person with GERD can also experience dry cough.
One of the symptom that is very rarely seen in GERD patients is nausea. Some people happen to feel giddy and nauseous, and this causes them to vomit frequently.
The most common type of treatment of GERD is through medicines. If the condition of the patient is very serious, it is likely that the doctor would suggest surgery. However, usually all patients of GERD have to continue taking medicines even after the surgery, and mostly this needs to be done for the rest of their life. It is not possible to cure it completely, however it can be kept in control with the help of various medication.
Along with medicines, the patient would have to follow a strict diet. One would also have to avoid certain harmful habits like smoking, eating tobacco and spicy food. Remember that nothing is more important than one's own health, and proper care needs to be taken to keep GERD under control.