Initially, GERD symptoms present themselves as persistent occurrences of regurgitation and heartburn accompanied by an uncomfortably burning sensation emanating from the chest into the back of the throat.
This condition is due to the acidic contents of the stomach flowing back up into the esophageal tube and irritating tissues structurally unable to resist the acid’s potency.
People suffering from early symptoms of GERD usually try self-medicating themselves by drinking over the counter antacid solutions or chewing on antacid tablets.
However, unless the cause of GERD is not treated, symptoms will continue to manifest themselves, worsening until the appearance of severe GERD symptoms force the individual to see a doctor.
The Cause of GERD Symptoms: A Loose Esophageal Sphincter Muscle
The most frequent cause of GERD symptoms is having an abnormally functioning esophageal sphincter muscle, a tissue, which constitutes the opening between the stomach and the esophageal tube.
When this muscle flap fails to close properly after food has passed into the stomach, the contents of the stomach – as well as caustic stomach acid – may push its way back into the esophagus. This action produces the intense burning sensation sometimes affecting the back of the throat.
In addition, GERD symptoms may also be generated by other medical conditions such as hiatal hernias, esophageal irregularities and a stomach which resists emptying into the intestines expeditiously, allowing food to lay longer in the stomach where it continues to absorb more acid.
More on That Essential Esophageal Sphincter Muscle
The lower esophageal muscle, or sphincter muscle (LES), is the predominant mechanism contributing to symptoms of acid reflux disease.
As a tubular muscle extending from the upper stomach into the lower throat area, the LES is responsible for obstructing the passage so that any liquid or food swallowed cannot move back into the esophagus.
This is why we are not able to breath and eat at the same time. When the LES is closed, air goes into the lungs rather than the stomach. When it is open, food enters the stomach rather than the lungs.
One problem of the LES, which generates symptoms of GERD is weak, ineffective contractions that are incapable of wholly blocking the passage into the stomach.
Another issue is something called transient LES relaxation, which means the contractions do not supplement the act of swallowing as they should and allow the muscle to remain in an abnormally prolonged “relaxed” state.
List of Typical GERD Symptoms
Both of these above mentioned conditions can provoke the following symptoms of GERD:
- Burning, painful sensations in the upper stomach, chest and throat (sometimes misdiagnosed as a heart attack)
- Uncomfortable fullness in the stomach well after eating a meal
- Nausea following a meal
- Stomach contents “regurgitating” into the back of the throat and mouth
- Sore throat from continuous regurgitation
- Frequent bouts of hiccups
List of More Severe GERD Symptoms
Symptoms of acid reflux disease caused by GERD, which may occur if the condition is untreated, progressively worsen to include:
- Laryngitis caused by acid erosion of the throat tissues – individuals may also experience hoarseness and the persistent feeling of having a lump in the throat.
In addition, when someone is bothered by a nagging, dry cough GERD can be the culprit because of the irritation caused by the acid to throat tissues.
- Swallowing difficulties – referred to as dysphagia, patients suffering from GERD symptoms may find themselves unable to swallow food and possibly choking on it due to accumulation of scar tissue on the esophageal tube lining.
- Respiratory issues – because the primary vehicle of symptoms of GERD involve a muscle controlling the precise operations of eating and breathing, wheezing and coughing symptoms similar to an asthma attack may affect the individual after eating a meal.
This is due to the periodic occurrence of droplets of stomach acid accidentally entering the lungs during the dysfunctional process of acid reflux.
Furthermore, a correlation between GERD and palpitations of the heart exists due to respiratory difficulties.
- Chronic vomiting – consistently experiencing a choking sensation exacerbated by the excessive flow of acid into the throat may cause daily vomiting in those suffering from incessant and untreated GERD. This can lead to weight loss and nutritional deficiencies as well.
Self-Diagnosis of GERD Symptoms Is not Advisable
It is advice that you see a doctor if you suspect you may be suffering from GERD as many acid reflux disease symptoms mimic those of other common conditions, such as gallbladder disorders, hiatal hernia, inflammation of the pancreas, liver problems, ulcers and more rarely, stomach cancer.
A doctor can administer blood tests and perform x-rays that will accurately reveal whether your are suffering from GERD.
Potential Complications of Untreated Symptoms of GERD
When stomach acid continues to irritate the lining of the esophageal tube, a condition called Barrett’s esophagus may arise.
Barrett’s esophagus occurs when the esophageal line is altered by the persistent flow of acid emerging from the stomach, causing it to resemble the chemical and tissue structure of the intestinal lining.
Because of the abnormal changes occurring at the cellular level, the risk of developing throat cancer, or esophageal adenocarcinoma, increases which, although rare, presents itself as an extremely hard-to-treat cancerous condition.
The only way someone suffering from GERD knows he may have Barrett’s esophagus is to be seen by a physician, since symptoms of acid reflux are the same as those with Barrett’s esophagus.
Relief of GERD Pain: Create Your Personal GERD Diet
Relief of uncomplicated GERD pain consists of life-style changes involving diet, losing weight if necessary, exercise and alleviation of stress.
Eating habits as well as the type of food consumed is targeted when trying to eliminate symptoms of GERD.
Two Essential Eating Strategies for Relieving GERD Symptoms
- Reducing the amount of food eaten during a meal can help lessen the pain of acid reflux because a full, distended stomach often stimulates relaxation of the LES.
- Eating smaller meals during the day and avoiding food too late in the evening allows the stomach to empty most of its contents before lying down at bedtime.
A List of Foods to Avoid with GERD
Specific foods are definite instigators of GERD symptoms due to their ability to decrease pressure on the LES to obstruct the tube properly.
These foods are:
- Peppermint (candy, tea)
- Caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea and colas
Smoking will also increase regurgitation and stomach acid as well.
Other foods exacerbating GERD symptoms include:
- Citrus juice (especially orange, grapefruit or lemon)
- Spicy foods
- Tomato juice
- Whole milk
- Cheese made from whole milk
- Fatty meats (bacon should always be avoided)
- Processed meats
Another method to alleviate acid reflux symptoms is chewing gum.
Because saliva contains bicarbonate and chewing gum increases swallowing, heartburn and regurgitation may lessen when treated with extra amounts of acid-neutralizing saliva flowing down the esophagus and into the stomach.
This may work well for some but not at all with others, depending on severity of the condition.
Medically Treating Symptoms of GERD: Antacids Treatment
At the first feeling of GERD pain, most people reach for the nearest antacid liquid or tablets available to them. Although antacids provide relief, it is only temporary, usually ameliorating GERD symptoms for only an hour or two.
In general, three types of over the counter antacids exist:
Calcium-based antacids work well, but present a problem because of calcium’s ability to stimulate acid production in the stomach.
Because calcium promotes release of gastrin, a hormone responsible for acid secretion, it indirectly creates a rebound effect when calcium carbonate levels lessen.
With gastrin still being released after the antacid as stopped working, stomach acid levels rise, generating another round of GERD symptoms.
Antacids Containing Histamine Antagonists: Only for Relief of Acid Indigestion, not Esophagitis
A drug referred to as an antagonist means that the drug is capable of inhibiting actions on other chemical processes.
Since histamines stimulate acid secretions in the stomach, a histamine antagonist effectively inhibits acid production by attaching to receptors covering the exterior of acid-generating cells within the stomach.
Referred to as H2 antagonists, a histamine antagonist such as Pepcid® and Tagamet® is a potent medicine to use against GERD symptoms, especially heartburn.
For optimal relief of acid indigestion, take H2 antagonists about one half hour before eating. This is because these antacids reach peak levels once the stomach is busily digesting food and producing large amounts of stomach acid.
However, H2 antagonists are not effective against esophagitis, or inflammation of the esophagus, commonly seen in complications of GERD involving ulcerations, lining erosion and Barrett’s esophagus.
Proton Pump Inhibitors: Eliminate Acid Production for Longer Plus Protect the Esophageal
Another kind of drug created specifically for alleviation of GERD symptoms is a proton pump inhibitor (PPI).
Also known as Prevacid® or Prilosec®, PPI blocks acid-producing cells in the stomach from secreting acid.
Although PPI performs basically the same chemical processes involved in H2 antagonist acid reduction, it has an advantage over H2 in that it eliminates more acid production for an extended period of time.
In addition, PPI treats all GERD symptoms by providing esophageal protection, which reduces the risk of ulceritis or Barrett’s esophagus.
Surgery for GERD Symptoms
When prescription or over the counter medications fail to relieve symptoms of acid reflux disease and the possibility of further complications exist, surgery is the next option available.
Description of GERD Surgery
Known as fundoplication, this operation involves taking parts of the hiatal hernial sac, pulling it past the diaphragm and stitching it so that it no longer hangs below the diaphragm.
The surgeon will then wrap the upper portion of the stomach, which lies directly beside the esophageal opening around the lower part of the esophagus, creating an artificial LES capable of preventing stomach contents from moving into the esophagus.
Performed using a procedure called laparoscopy, this operation only requires a small incision in the stomach and minimal outpatient hospital stay.
Extremely effective in most GERD patients, fundoplication can alleviate GERD pain for up to ten years.
Unless undetected and more complicated medical conditions exist, relief from GERD symptoms and associated pain due to acid reflux is possible with dietary and eating habit changes in conjunction with maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding alcohol and smoking.
Antacids will provide temporary relief until you make changes in diet and you see progress in alleviating GERD pain.
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