Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease. GERD happens when stomach acid or, occasionally, stomach content, flows back into your food pipe (esophagus). The backwash (reflux) aggravates the lining of your esophagus and causes GERD.
Both acid reflux and heartburn prevail digestive conditions that lots of people experience from time to time. When these signs and symptoms occur at least twice weekly or disrupt your daily life, or when your doctor can see damage to your esophagus, you might be identified with GERD.
The majority of people can handle the discomfort of GERD with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. However some individuals with GERD might need more powerful medications, or even surgery, to reduce symptoms.
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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Symptoms
GERD signs and symptoms include:
- A burning sensation in your chest (heartburn), often infecting your throat, in addition to a sour taste in your mouth
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).
- Dry cough.
- Hoarseness or sore throat.
- Regurgitation of food or sour liquid (acid reflux).
- Sensation of a swelling in your throat.
When to see a doctor
Seek immediate medical attention if you experience chest pain, specifically if you have other symptoms and signs, such as shortness of breath or jaw or arm pain. These may be signs and symptoms of a cardiovascular disease.
Make a visit with your doctor if you experience severe or frequent GERD symptoms. If you take over the counter medications for heartburn more than twice a week, see your doctor.
Causes of GERD
GERD is caused by frequent acid reflux– the backup of stomach acid or bile into the esophagus.
When you swallow, the lower esophageal sphincter– a circular band of muscle around the bottom part of your esophagus– relaxes to allow food and liquid to stream down into your stomach. Then it closes again.
However, if this valve unwinds abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into your esophagus, causing frequent heartburn. In some cases this can disrupt your life.
This consistent backwash of acid can irritate the lining of your esophagus, causing it to end up being irritated (esophagitis), according to iytmed.com. Over time, the inflammation can wear away the esophageal lining, triggering complications such as bleeding, esophageal narrowing or Barrett’s esophagus (a precancerous condition).
Conditions that can increase your risk of GERD include:
- Bulging of top of stomach up into the diaphragm (hiatal hernia).
- Dry mouth.
- Delayed stomach clearing.
- Connective tissue disorders, such as scleroderma.
In time, chronic inflammation in your esophagus can lead to complications, including:
- Narrowing of the esophagus (esophageal stricture). Damage to cells in the lower esophagus from acid exposure leads to formation of scar tissue. The scar tissue narrows the food path, causing problem swallowing.
- An open sore in the esophagus (esophageal ulcer). Stomach acid can severely deteriorate tissues in the esophagus, triggering an open sore to form. The esophageal ulcer may bleed, cause pain and make swallowing difficult.
- Precancerous changes to the esophagus (Barrett’s esophagus). In Barrett’s esophagus, the tissue lining the lower esophagus changes. These changes are associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer. The risk of cancer is low, however your doctor will likely suggest routine endoscopy exams to try to find early indication of esophageal cancer.