GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease): Is it life-threatening?
GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) also known as chronic reflux disease is a condition when the acid content in the stomach keeps coming up toward the mouth. This happens because the esophagus, the tube connecting the mouth and stomach fails to constrict its closing. At the end of the tube, there is an esophagus sphincter that works to constrict or relax the opening in the stomach
Therefore, when this opening does not get closed, the stomach acid comes back up into it. This causes heartburn and various other symptoms. However, anyone can experience it at some point but suffering from it repeatedly, at least twice every week, causes GERD.
Symptoms of GERD
The main symptom of GERD involves heartburn. This happens when the acid comes up and it causes a burning sensation in the chest. However, some other symptoms involve:
- Chest pain
- Bad breath
- Trouble breathing
- Difficulty or pain while swallowing
- A hoarse voice especially in the morning or laryngitis
- Chronic cough
- Lump in throat
- Worsening asthma
- Sleeping problems
Some people also confuse heartburn or chest pain with heart problems. So, if you experience severe chest pain, then make sure to contact your healthcare provider for further assistance.
Heartburn and GERD
As heartburn is a common symptom, it gets difficult to differentiate between occasional heartburn and GERD. So, you need to understand that heartburn is normal sometimes. When your heartburn becomes persistent and keeps occurring even after taking antacids or other treatments, it can be GERD. So, contact your doctor and they can analyze the best treatment according to your condition.
What causes GERD?
The main cause of GERD is the poor functioning of LES (Lower Esophageal Sphincter). When it does not function properly, there is acid reflux. However, some other factors can contribute to it which are:
- Hiatal hernia: This is a condition when some part of the stomach moves a little upwards from the diaphragm. Therefore, if the positioning of the diaphragm changes, it can lead to poor functioning of LES.
- Large meals frequently: Frequently eating large meals can make the stomach swollen or create distension. This can cause problems with LES.
- Lying down: Lying down immediately, especially after large meals can put away the pressure needed on the LES. This can cause GERD and constant heartburn.
- Pressure: Too much pressure on the stomach like in pregnancy can also lead to constant acid reflux.
- Foods: Certain food like dairy, spicy or fried food, and bad eating habits
- Medications: Medications for asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, painkillers, and others can cause acid reflux.
There are some factors that can increase the probability of the disease. These are:
- Connective Tissue Disorders like rheumatoid arthritis
- Excessive consumption of beverages like soda, coffee, or alcohol
- Lying down constantly or after large meals
Is GERD a severe disease?
The disease does not cause life-threatening effects. However, long-term problems can lead to some severe problems. So, these disorders can further cause disorders like:
- Esophageal cancer
- Barrett’s esophagus
- Respiratory problems
Therefore, it is necessary to contact a doctor when you start feeling symptoms of GERD. Any disease left untreated for a long time can worsen and cause various severe health conditions.
Prevention and Lifestyle Changes
Changing lifestyle and diet can help in reducing the risk and improve GERD. These changes are:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid eating large meals, especially at bedtime. So, keep at least a three hours gap between meals and bedtime.
- Eat slowly while taking your time and take small meals instead of one large meal.
- Stop smoking and alcohol
- Make sure to wear loose clothing that does not put pressure on your belly.
- Sleep with an elevated head. However, pillows do not work so try to add blocks under the bed or some other technique to elevate it.
- Reduce processed food and full-fat foods like butter, oils, cheese, and whole milk.
- Eat sitting properly and do not lie down for at least 30-45 minutes after eating.
- Take the acid-reducing medication according to your doctor’s advice.
What not to do?
Everyone has a habit of self-treating medication and often looks for home remedies. Similarly, there are some remedies but they do more harm than good. So, beware of the following remedies and do not try them:
- Ginger: Ginger is a magical food for some problems. However, studies show that it may not be good for heartburn. Taking excessive ginger may result in worsening it.
- Chewing gum: Eating chewing neutralizes the acid in saliva. For some time, chewing may help but there is not enough study to support that it actually works for acid reflux.
- Milk: Milk contains fat and protein. However, it is alkalizing so it can relieve symptoms. But after some time, due to fat and protein, the symptoms may worsen in some people.
- Baking soda and Water: Baking soda has alkaline properties, so it can help with acidity regulation. But if someone takes too much, it can make the condition worse. Because baking soda is high in sodium.
Having GERD can cause constant distress in life. Because continuous or regular heartburn can affect a person’s life and work. So, talk with your doctor about the diagnosis and treatment that works well for you.
Also, it is as necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle as taking medication. Lastly, there are different treatment options like medications, lifestyle changes, and surgery. Your doctor will decide the best for you based on your symptoms.