Everyone endures stomach troubles at one time or another that leave you thinking – is it just a one-off issue, heartburn, or something worthy of bringing up with a gastrointestinal specialist?
When it comes to that “burning sensation in your chest” feeling after eating, acid reflux may be the culprit. But what does that mean, and can it be treated? We’re here to help by providing the lowdown on heartburn, acid reflux and GERD.
What is acid reflux?
Simply put, acid reflux happens when stomach acid backs up into your esophagus. When you swallow, the lower esophageal sphincter muscle relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach, and then it closes again. Sometimes, this muscle relaxes abnormally or weakens causing stomach acid to flow back into your esophagus and producing a burning sensation in your throat.
If left untreated, acid reflux can damage the lining of the esophagus.
What is GERD, and is it serious?
When your heartburn is repeatedly occurring – and therefore chronic – it is diagnosed as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). It also means it’s time to plan a visit to a gastroenterologist to check out what’s going on before it becomes something serious.
What are the symptoms of acid reflux and GERD?
Symptoms may include:
- The taste of regurgitate food or a sour liquid in your throat
- A burning sensation in your chest (heartburn), which is caused by an inflamed esophagus
- Regurgitating food or a sour liquid (acid reflux)
- Chest pain or gas pains
- Difficulty swallowing (also called dysphagia)
- Dry cough
- Hoarseness or a sore throat
- Feeling of a lump in your throat
When symptoms persist to a point of continuous discomfort, it may be time to dig a bit deeper to see if GERD is the issue.
During a visit to diagnose GERD, a patient may receive the following tests:
- Barium esophagram. This is an x-ray of your upper digestive system, which requires drinking a chalky liquid that coats the inside lining of your digestive tract. This allows us to see the shape and condition of your esophagus, stomach and upper intestine.
- Upper endoscopy. By passing a flexible tube down your throat, this procedure allows us to examine the inside of your esophagus. The test is usually performed with sedation.
- Esophageal pH (acid) test. This test uses a device to monitor the acid in your esophagus and identify when and how long stomach acid regurgitates into your esophagus.
- Esophageal motility test. This test measures the movement and pressure in your esophagus.
Know your risks
Risk factors for acid reflux and GERD include obesity, a hiatal hernia, pregnancy, smoking, asthma, diabetes, overeating, and even connective tissue disorders such as scleroderma.
Ways to avoid acid reflux/GERD:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid tight-fitting clothes that may bother the stomach
- Avoid food and drinks that trigger heartburn such as fatty or fried foods, tomato sauce, alcohol, mint, garlic, onion and caffeine
- Beware of portion sizes – larger and higher-fat meals tend to stay in the stomach longer
- Keep a journal of foods and symptoms to look for patterns
- Don’t lie down after eating
- Elevate your head when lying down
- Avoid smoking
While some people experience acid reflux and GERD relief by making lifestyle changes or by taking over-the-counter medications, others may need further investigation with endoscopy.
When medications aren’t cutting it, additional treatments may include:
- Nissen fundoplication: Surgery to reinforce the lower esophageal sphincter
- Surgery to create a barrier preventing the backup of stomach acid
- Linx: Surgery to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter
Visit a gastrointestinal doctor today
Visit Gastrointestinal Specialists, P.C. in Troy, Michigan, to receive a true diagnosis of what’s causing your chest pain so we can help you treat it before long-term damage occurs. Schedule your appointment today!