What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, is a disease that affects the ring of muscle, the lower esophageal sphincter, which separates the stomach and esophagus. When the lower esophageal sphincter does not close properly, stomach acid can reflux into the esophagus causing a burning sensation known as heartburn or acid reflux. GERD is common, especially in pregnant women, but can usually be managed with changes to diet and lifestyle. Approximately 50 million people in the U.S. have heartburn once per month, and about 15 million Americans suffer from daily heartburn.
What Causes Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?
Hiatal hernia occurs when the upper portion of the stomach moves up through an opening in the diaphram. This portion of the diaphragm provides support to the lower end of esophagus. Although not everyone with hiatal hernia will develop GERD, it can contribute to GERD symptoms such as hearburn. Pressure in the abdomen caused by coughing, vomiting, or otherwise straining can cause hiatal hernia and lead to GERD. Pregnancy and obesity can also cause hiatal hernia and GERD. GERD can also be caused by food sensitivities or by too much or too little acid in the stomach.
What are the Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?
One of the symptoms of GERD is heartburn (also called acid indigestion), which is a burning sensation in the chest that can extend up to the throat. Heartburn associated with GERD can last two hours or more and is often worse after eating, bending over, or lying down.
What is the Treatment for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?
Because there are multiple causes for GERD, there are also a few different GERD treatments. Most often, GERD is caused by food sensitivities. The acid in the stomach is necessary to kill bacteria and denature proteins to protect the body from pathogens and efficiently absorb nutrients. When there is too much stomach acid, the body is reacting to the foods being eaten and one may experience heartburn. Food sensitivity testing is important to identify those offensive foods. These foods can be eliminated from the diet for four weeks and then reintroduced, one at a time, to identify those foods responsible for heartburn and other GERD symptoms.
With age we start to make less hydrochloric acid, and the food eaten can remain undigested in the stomach for too long. That increased pressure against the sphincter that connects the lower esophageal sphincter to the stomach stretches out and the small amount of stomach acid you are making comes up through the esophagus and causes heartburn irritation. For those patients, taking hydrochloric acid can completely resolve their heartburn and GERD symptoms. The medications used to treat GERD, such as omeprazole and related drugs, can cause severe anemia, other nutrient deficiencies, and bone density problems. The effects of these medications has only been studied with up to six months of use. Therefore, for those GERD patients who have been on these medications for prolonged periods, it is crucial to do thorough blood testing to determine if nutrient deficiencies exist or if bone density has been affected.