What is GERD?

Every time we eat, food travels from our mouth through our esophagus and reaches a door-like structure called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This structure opens to allow food into the stomach and closes to keep stomach food from entering the esophagus.

In gastroesophageal intestinal reflux disease (GERD), the LES does not work correctly, leading to stomach contents traveling back into the esophagus. This condition is called acid reflux, also known as heartburn. Unlike the stomach, which has a protective layer, the esophagus can get irritated when contacting the stomach acid.

What causes GERD?

Foods such as chocolate, caffeine, and peppermint can cause the LES to open back up. Laying on the back and side, bending over, and lifting heavy objects after eating can prevent the LES from closing properly. People who are pregnant, obese, and wear tight clothing can put pressure on their abdomen, which can also cause the LES to open up when it should be closed.

Some behaviors contribute to the risk of getting GERD. They include smoking, drinking alcohol, and consuming large meals frequently. Taking certain medications that treat other medical conditions can have side effects that increase stomach acid. So can eating foods that are spicy, citrus, fried, and fatty.

Some medical problems can also lead to GERD. Long periods of heartburn not only produce discomfort but irritates the esophagus, which can be damaging. A hiatal hernia is where the upper stomach protrudes above the diaphragm. It can prevent the LES from working correctly, leading to increased reflux found in GERD.

How is GERD treated?

Some patients may respond well to a combination of lifestyle changes and treatment with medications.

Some other patients do not find sufficient relief from those combined methods and require surgical intervention. Patients may choose surgery to avoid a lifetime of taking medications.

Treatment for GERD includes:

  • Endoscopic therapy
  • Lifestyle and dietary changes
  • Medication
  • Surgery

Suggestions to help alleviate GERD symptoms include:

  • Avoid caffeinated beverages
  • Avoid fatty foods and peppermint as they slow gastric emptying
  • Avoid coffee, alcohol, and acidic liquids as they affect the muscle movements in your digestive tract
  • Avoid large meals.
  • Avoid lying down immediately after a meal.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Avoid smoking.