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Solving Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Understanding GERD and What You Can Do to Prevent It

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious form of gastroesophageal reflux (GER). This is a common condition. GER occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) opens spontaneously for varying periods of time. Or it might not close properly. Either way, stomach contents rise up in to the esophagus. GER is also called acid reflux or acid regurgitation, because digestive juices – called acids – rise up with the food. Occasional GER is common and does not necessarily mean one has GERD. Persistent reflux that occurs more than twice a week is considered GERD. It can eventually lead to more serious health problems.

Symptoms and Treatment Approach for Preventing GERD

The main symptom of GERD in adults is frequent heartburn, also called acid indigestion. Many describe heartburn as a feeling of burning discomfort, localized behind the breastbone that moves up toward the neck and throat. These symptoms can last several hours and often worsen after eating food.

Treatment of GERD should:

  • Eliminate symptoms
  • Heal esophagitis
  • Prevent the relapse of esophagitis or development of complications

See your doctor if you have had symptoms of GERD and have been using antacids or over-the-counter reflux medications for more than two weeks. Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist. All treatments are based on attempts to decrease the amount of acid that refluxes from the stomach back into the esophagus. Or it could help make the refluxed material less irritating to the lining of the esophagus.

Lifestyle Changes You Can Make that May Help

There are practical steps you can take every day to help minimize or even prevent GERD from occurring. Some are more difficult to accomplish, such as quitting smoking or changes in diet. But even small changes can help. Consider the following lifestyle changes:

  • If you smoke, stop
  • Avoid foods and beverages that worsen symptoms, including spicy foods, tomato-based foods, caffeine, chocolate, fatty foods, and citrus
  • Lose weight, if needed
  • Eat small, frequent meals
  • Wear loose fitting clothes
  • Avoid lying down for three hours after a meal
  • Raise your head when lying down with pillows, blocks, or foam wedges

Medications Your Doctor May Recommend

Your doctor will work with you to control or eliminate your GERD condition. Your treatment strategy may include the use of medications, such as:

  • Over-the-counter antacids or medications that stop acid production or help the muscles that empty your stomach
  • Foaming agents that work by covering your stomach contents with foam to prevent reflux
  • H2 blockers that decrease acid production for short term relief—available in prescription strength and over the counter strength
  • Proton pump inhibitors, which are more effective than H2 blockers and can relieve symptoms and heal the esophageal lining in almost everyone who has GERD
  • Prokinetics, which help strengthen the LES and make the stomach empty faster, but has frequent side effects that limit their usefulness

Because drugs work in different ways, combinations of medications may help control symptoms. Your health care provider is the best source of information about how to use medications for GERD.

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