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Reflux 101

A disease affecting an estimated seven million Americans, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), or acid reflux, occurs when your lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle at the stomach’s opening, remains open for an extended period of time, or opens more frequently than is considered healthy. The term “acid reflux” refers to the stomach acids as they travel up into your esophagus in the event that your LES remains open. Acid reflux disease is easily detected, and is often described as “a burning chest pain” (heartburn), or a sour or bitter taste from regurgitation of the stomach contents into the throat and/or mouth.

While there are a wide range of acid reflux causes, the most common is the presence of an abnormality referred to as a “hiatal hernia,” which occurs when the LES and the upper portion of the stomach move above the muscle that separates the stomach and chest called the diaphragm. This muscle typically helps to keep acid at bay in the stomach. If the diaphragm becomes compromised from a hiatal hernia, this allows the stomach acid to travel into the esophagus.

A fine line separates a common heartburn event and acid reflux disease, it’s commonly agreed upon that any acid reflux symptoms which occur twice weekly or more are generally considered strong indications of chronic GERD diagnosis. There are medications available to those who suffer from acid reflux disease. However, if the acid-reducing medications do not provide prolonged relief from the symptoms, your physician may order or perform esophageal tests and/or physical examinations to investigate health concerns. In some cases, your physician may perform an Endoscopy by inserting a long, narrow and flexible tube down the throat, during which he or she will have the option of taking biopsies of esophageal tissue for further examination.

As previously mentioned, there are a number of over-the-counter medications available for those who suffer from acid reflux disease, however, many of these acid-reducers commonly cause other side-effects, such as constipation or diarrhea. Should these side-effects occur, we recommend speaking to your physician or gastroenterologist (G.I.).

In addition to prescribed and/or over-the-counter medications, the method of treatment that is universally considered most effective is the conservative lifestyle choices and habits; the severity of acid reflux disease can be lessened by making general lifestyle changes, such as:

  • AVOID certain foods like coffee, chocolate, tomatoes along with spicy or greasy foods
  • Eating smaller meals
  • Quit smoking
  • Avoid eating within 2 to 3 hours before extended sleep periods (i.e. overnight)
  • Avoid wearing tight or form-fitting apparel or accessories
  • If a prior issue, take steps to reach a healthy physical weight

In some instances, such as, symptoms that do not lessen or worsen, or if therapies and or medications are ineffective. Your physician might recommend a surgical procedure to remedy your GERD. Your physician may mention a device referred to as “LINX”, which is a small flexible band of magnets that is surgically placed around the lower end of the esophagus at the top of the stomach or a surgical procedure called fundoplication, in which the upper portion of the stomach is wrapped around the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to prevent acid rising, and repair a hiatal hernia if necessary. Many of the surgical procedures available will help reduce the likelihood of stomach acid rising up into the esophagus. A consult with a specially trained surgeon will help you to decide which procedure is best for you.

If you or someone you know suffers from GERD or acid reflux disease, we recommend lifestyle habits be adjusted or changed prior to resorting to medications, or surgical procedures.

Contact your Health First physician with any questions or concerns regarding acid reflux.