Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease. GERD occurs when stomach acid or occasionally, stomach content, flows back into your food pipe (esophagus). The backwash (reflux) irritates the lining of your esophagus and causes GERD.
Both acid reflux and heartburn are common digestive conditions that many people experience from time to time. When these signs and symptoms occur at least twice each week or interfere with your daily life, or when your doctor can see damage to your esophagus, you may be diagnosed with GERD.
Complications associated with GERD:
Over 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 pathway, causing difficulty swallowing.
- An open sore in the esophagus (esophageal ulcer): Stomach acid can severely erode tissues in the esophagus, causing 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, but your doctor will likely recommend regular endoscopy exams to look for early warning signs of esophageal cancer.
Tips to Manage GERD:
- Maintain a healthy weight: Excess pounds put pressure on your abdomen, pushing up your stomach and causing acid to back up into your esophagus. If your weight is healthy, work to maintain it. If you are overweight or obese, work to slowly lose weight - no more than 1 or 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilogram) a week. Ask your doctor for help in devising a weight-loss strategy that will work for you.
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing: Clothes that fit tightly around your waist put pressure on your abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter.
- Avoid foods and drinks that trigger heartburn: Everyone has specific triggers. Common triggers such as fatty or fried foods, tomato sauce, alcohol, chocolate, mint, garlic, onion, and caffeine may make heartburn worse. Avoid foods you know will trigger your heartburn.
- Eat smaller meals: Avoid overeating by eating smaller meals.
- Elevate the head of your bed: If you regularly experience heartburn at night or while trying to sleep, put gravity to work for you. Elevate your bed
- Don't smoke: Smoking decreases the lower esophageal sphincter's ability to function properly.
If you wish to discuss about any specific problem, you can consult a specilized gastroenterologist and ask a free question.