November 21 – 27 is GERD Awareness Week: Here’s What You Should Know
GERD Awareness Week takes place every November around the Thanksgiving holiday. GERD, which stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a very common condition. While overeating a turkey dinner will trigger heartburn for a lot of people, experiencing it more than twice a week may mean you have GERD.
What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition caused by a leaky lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES should stay closed when you are not eating. If it doesn’t, stomach acid will flow up into the esophagus. This on its own is known as acid reflux.
But when it happens frequently (more than twice a week) and the acid starts to cause damage to the esophagus, it becomes GERD.
What are the symptoms of GERD?
The most common symptom of GERD Is a burning sensation in your chest, known as heartburn. You may also feel like there is a lump in your throat and have trouble swallowing. At night, it can cause coughing, laryngitis, and poor sleep.
What are risk factors for GERD?
There are two different ways GERD may be triggered – lifestyle factors and medical conditions.
- Lifestyle factors that increase the risk for GERD are:
- Eating large meals
- Eating late at night
- Lying down soon after eating
- Eating fried or fatty foods
- Drinking alcohol or coffee
- Taking certain medications
Medical conditions that increase the risk for GERD are:
- Connective tissue disorders – like scleroderma
Also, pregnancy often leads to temporary GERD as the baby pushes on the stomach and internal organs.
How is GERD diagnosed?
GERD is usually diagnosed by a physical examination and your medical history and symptoms, along with an upper endoscopy. An upper endoscopy is a procedure where a doctor is able to view your esophagus and stomach using a camera on a long flexible tube.
How is GERD treated?
GERD can often be treated by making lifestyle changes and taking medications like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or histamine antagonists. GERD may be treated with surgery or a minimally invasive procedure like Stretta, though this is not usually necessary.
What happens if GERD is untreated?
When GERD is left untreated for many years, continual damage to the esophagus can lead to Barrett’s esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus is when the cells lining the inside of the esophagus transform into a cell that could become cancerous. This change increases the risk of esophageal cancer.
By finding and treating GERD sooner, the chance of developing esophageal cancer in the future can be reduced.
When should I see a doctor for heartburn?
If you are experiencing heartburn more than twice a week, it is time to see a doctor. Don’t delay getting treatment for GERD symptoms – schedule an appointment now!