GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a chronic form of acid reflux that plagues sufferers multiple times per week. While most people experience an occasional instance of heartburn or reflux, GERD is a long-term condition with long-term consequences. Fortunately, with appropriate medications and treatment, most patients dealing with GERD can find effective relief.
How do You Know if You Have GERD?
The main factor that distinguishes GERD is the frequent and recurrent presence of heartburn sensations at least two times per week. However, this is not the only symptom that may occur, and it may even be absent altogether. Other indicators can include:
- Asthma-like symptoms
- Dry cough
- Difficulty with swallowing
- Sore throat
- Bad breath
What are the Long-term Consequences of GERD?
If not appropriately treated, GERD can lead to long-term problems due to the repeated irritation and damage to the esophagus. Conditions that may result from untreated GERD include:
- Esophagitis – A condition in which stomach acid leads to inflammation in the esophagus and difficulty swallowing.
- Ulcers – GERD is the most common cause of ulcers found in the esophagus.
- Stricture – Esophageal stricture is narrowing of the esophagus over time as damage occurs and scarring develops.
- Barrett’s Esophagus – As many as 10% of GERD patients experience pre-cancerous changes to cells lining the esophagus, a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus. Fortunately, only about 1% of these will go on to develop esophageal cancer.
How can GERD be Treated?
Finding relief from GERD and preventing long-term complications depends on effective treatment. This may come in the form of lifestyle changes or prescription medications. A gastroenterologist may recommend that patients take steps such as stopping smoking, cutting back on consumption of alcohol, losing weight, eating smaller meals, and avoiding later meals. Medications used may be proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to help reduce the production of stomach acid.
Less commonly, in the most severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to strengthen the bottom portion of the esophagus (sphincter) and prevent stomach acid from continuing to back up into the area.
If you are currently suffering from symptoms of GERD, it is important to seek medical attention. By seeing a gastroenterologist, you can find effective means of relief from your current symptoms, as well as prevent the development of future problems.