Expert Health Articles

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Jessica Reynolds, MD

Surgical Associates of Northwest Ohio

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a disease that causes the contents of your stomach to repeatedly come up into your esophagus, causing pain and heartburn. It is caused by the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that allows food to travel from your esophagus and to your stomach when you swallow. This relaxation allows contents to travel back up to the esophagus instead of remaining in the stomach. GERD affects nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population.

Anyone can develop GERD at any age, but there are factors that increase the likelihood of its development. Those who are overweight and/or struggle with obesity are more likely to obtain GERD than those who are a healthy weight. Additionally, smokers or those heavily exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased chance of GERD development. It’s also common for pregnant women to experience GERD. Even something as simple as ingesting certain medications can cause GERD to develop. These factors are just a few of the many possible reasons GERD occurs in individuals, but unfortunately many cases of GERD have unknown causes.

Several complications can occur if GERD goes untreated for an extended period of time, so it’s important that GERD patients seek treatment as soon as possible. Complications that result from untreated GERD include:

  • Damage to the esophagus
  • Inflammation and narrowing of the esophagus
  • Respiratory problems

Although not all GERD patients experience heartburn, it remains the most common symptom of GERD, along with tasting food or acid in the back of the mouth. Other symptoms of GERD include:

  • Bad breath
  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Nausea
  • Teeth erosion
  • Vomiting

Several of these symptoms can be managed with over-the-counter medications and lifestyle changes such as avoiding greasy or spicy foods. These foods include chocolate, peppermint, coffee, tomatoes and alcoholic beverages. Eating smaller portions, not smoking and losing weight if necessary can also help treat GERD symptoms. If symptoms do not improve after basic managing techniques have been attempted, doctors may prescribe medication or suggest surgery as treatment.

Endoscopic procedures and minimally invasive surgery will sometimes be performed on patients with chronic GERD to relieve their symptoms. Stretta therapy is one of these procedures and uses radiofrequency to strengthen the muscles that connect the stomach and the esophagus to prevent acid from entering the esophagus. If therapy fails to relieve GERD symptoms, surgery may be necessary. LINX is a minimally invasive surgery that is commonly used on patients with chronic GERD. This procedure involves placing a band with magnetic beads around the esophagus to encourage the muscles to stay tight until the patient swallows. When swallowing occurs, the magnetic beads expand and allow food and liquids to pass into the stomach normally before tightening again.

Treating GERD prevents complications from occurring in the future and makes the patient more comfortable in everyday life. If you experience GERD, ask your health care provider about what treatments will work best for you.