- What is gastroesophageal reflux disease?
- What are the risk factors for GERD?
- What symptoms does it produce?
- How is gastroesophageal reflux disease diagnosed?
- Treatments for gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Treatments and recommendations for the home
- GERD and change of habits
- Endoscopy in gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Esophageal manometry
- 24-hour pH measurement (pHmetry)
- Over-the-counter medications for gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Prescription drugs
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a common condition identified by the acronym GERD. It is an entity influenced by many factors, such as diet, weight and even stress. Because of these triggers, its prevalence has increased markedly in recent years.Almost everyone has experienced acid reflux at some time in their lives. However, GERD is not a one-time occurrence, but goes beyond that. In this article, we’ll explain everything you need to know about this condition and how to treat it.
What is gastroesophageal reflux disease?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is when the acid content present in the stomach frequently moves up into the esophagus. As we noted in the introduction, almost everyone has experienced reflux at some time.The difference between the disease and occasional reflux is that, in this pathology, it happens at least once or twice a week. According to a review article published in the Acta Gastroenterologica Latinoamericana, the prevalence is between 10 and 20% in Western countries. In Asian countries, this prevalence is much lower, perhaps due to factors related to their type of diet.Acid reflux occurs because the lower esophageal sphincter is weakened. This sphincter is actually a group of muscles that control the passage of food from the esophagus to the stomach. When this happens and acid reaches the esophagus repeatedly, the mucosa that lines it is damaged.In a study published in Anales del Sistema Sanitario de Navarra they state that one of the most frequent complications is Barret’s esophagus. This is a pathology that produces a series of precancerous changes in the esophageal mucosa.Another possible complication is an esophageal ulcer. The acid can continuously damage the mucosa, causing this lesion to form, which bleeds and complicates digestion.GERD is common in the adult population, and it is estimated that up to 20% suffer from it.
What are the risk factors for GERD?
As mentioned at the beginning, this pathology is multifactorial. That is to say, its development is influenced by numerous factors. First of all, obesity is one of the most associated, as well as diet. People who eat abundantly, especially at night, are more likely to suffer from it.Especially if the meals are rich in fat. The same happens among those who abuse alcohol or coffee, since they are substances that increase the secretion of acid in the stomach. Smoking has also been recognized as a risk factor.According to a study published in Farmacia Profesional, there are other important factors. For example, carbonated beverages, physical exercise, and even sleeping in certain postures. Similarly, stress and pregnancy are important triggers of this pathology.
What symptoms does it produce?
The symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease can be very annoying and disabling. Most patients explain that they suffer from a burning sensation that rises up into the throat. It usually appears at night or after meals.This is because, when lying down, it is easier for the stomach contents to back up into the esophagus. Another typical symptom is chest pain, as well as the sensation of having a lump in the throat.In some people, if the disease progresses, it is common to find difficulty in swallowing or breathing. In fact, aphonia and throat clearing are other common signs of this pathology.
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How is gastroesophageal reflux disease diagnosed?
The diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease is complex. First, it is usually based on symptoms. In most cases, pharmacological treatment is first available to check the patient’s progress.Even so, after a few weeks, it is recommended that the esophagus be explored by means of complementary tests. It is observed if there is still reflux and if there are lesions or complications derived from it. Below we explain the main tests that are performed.
Endoscopy in gastroesophageal reflux disease
Endoscopy is a test that consists of introducing a thin, flexible tube through a body orifice. In this case, it’s done through the throat. This tube has a light and an integrated camera.Endoscopy makes it possible to observe the esophagus and check for inflammation or lesions. Biopsies of esophageal tissue can even be taken with the same instrument and analyzed later.
Esophageal manometry is a test that measures the pressure and contractions that occur along the esophagus. In this way, the strength of the muscles is observed, which may indicate a disturbance of the lower esophageal sphincter.
24-hour pH measurement (pHmetry)
To perform this test, a probe is inserted through the nose into the end of the esophagus or into the stomach. It can be used to see if reflux episodes occur and how long they last by measuring pH variations.
Treatments for gastroesophageal reflux disease
Fortunately, advances in medicine have allowed gastroesophageal reflux disease to be treated in a number of ways. The first is to try to change certain habits and try specific medications that we will discuss in the next section.In cases where these measures do not work, there are also a number of more aggressive options that can resolve the condition definitively. In the first place, we find fundoplication.This is a surgical technique that consists of wrapping the upper part of the stomach over the final part of the esophagus. Thus, the sphincter is engulfed and more pressure is exerted, helping to prevent the acid content from rising again.Another technique is the placement of the LINX device. According to a study published in International ECOS of Surgery it is a method that has proven to be effective. It is a kind of magnetic ring that selectively closes the junction between the esophagus and the stomach. It prevents reflux, but allows food to pass through.
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Treatments and recommendations for the home
Before resorting to surgery, it is important to modify certain habits to prevent gastroesophageal reflux disease. First of all, it is essential to reduce body weight. At least in those people in whom obesity is one of the influential factors.When eating, the ideal is to remain seated or standing for about 3 hours to favor the descent of the liquid by gravity. The same can be done if reflux occurs during the night. Many people use pillows to elevate the trunk. In addition, it is essential to stop smoking.Dietary changes are key to controlling acid reflux and not stimulating it.
Over-the-counter medications for gastroesophageal reflux disease
There are medications commonly used for gastroesophageal reflux disease that do not require a prescription. For example, antacids such as sodium bicarbonate. However, these substances should not be abused as they do not solve the problem.The most commonly used drugs are those that block the production of acid in the stomach. Firstly, those that act by inhibiting the proton pump, such as omeprazole. There are also those that act on the histamine receptors in the stomach, although these are usually the second option.The problem is that these types of drugs, when taken over a prolonged period of time, are associated with serious side effects. For example, with an increased risk of cancer, as explained in a study published in the Revista Colombiana de Gastroenterología.
Some drugs that also act as proton pump inhibitors do require a prescription. For example, esomeprazole or lansoprazole. Others, such as baclofen, act by strengthening the lower esophageal sphincter. They are usually more potent drugs or with a higher risk of side effects.
GERD and change of habits
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a common pathology that is influenced by many factors. To prevent it, it is important to be aware that obesity and eating habits strongly influence its development.In addition, it is necessary to always consult a doctor in case of any symptoms. Acid can cause lesions on the esophagus and lead to serious complications.
The Keys to Preventing Nighttime Acid Reflux Nighttime acid reflux can make it hard to fall asleep. Fortunately, you can control it with some lifestyle changes. In this article, discover the best tips. Read more »
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