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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)


    Normal esophagus.
   Image courtesy AstraZeneca LP

Your stomach contains acid that helps you to dissolve food. Without it, your digestive system can't work properly. But too much acid can cause several acid-related disease and disorders, like gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), dyspepsia, and peptic ulcers.

We'll be explaining what GERD is. But before we explain these diseases, let's look at how the stomach works:

The esophagus is the hollow tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a muscle, shaped like a ring, that opens to allow food to enter the stomach and also prevents acid from backing up into the esophagus.

Food is broken down and digested in the stomach. The duodenum is connected to the stomach and goes to the small intestine where nutrients are absorbed.

When food is eaten, it goes down the esophagus, through the LES and into your stomach. The stomach produces acid, which breaks down the food. The LES closes tightly after food has passed protecting your esophagus from the acid. Normal acid function in your digestive system depends on acid remaining in your stomach and the stomach's lining staying intact.

See also Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Diet


Esophagus with acid reflux disease.
Image courtesy AstraZeneca LP

What is GERD?

GERD, or acid reflux disease, is more than just heartburn! It's a potentially serious condition that can cause serious health problems. Millions of people have the disease and suffer from its most common symptom—persistent heartburn that occurs 2 or more days a week.

What happens when I have GERD?

This may happen when the LES fails to close all the way after food or liquid goes into the stomach from the esophagus. Acid goes up your esophagus. Unlike your stomach, which can handle the acid most of the time, the esophagus is easily irritated when acid backs up, like in this picture.

 

Isn't this the same as ordinary heartburn?

No. It is the most common symptom, though. Not all patients with GERD have the same symptoms, but many share these common problems:

*Although chest pain can be a sign of GERD, it can also be a sign of heart disease. If you experience chest pain, see your healthcare provider immediately.

What are the consequences of GERD?

Over time the acid can eat away at the lining of the esophagus—causing heartburn pain and damage to the esophagus. This damage, called erosive esophagitis, can be painful and can lead to potentially serious medical complications such as chronic scarring, esophageal bleeding, and even ulcers.

How can I treat my GERD?

There are several treatment options today that will help you relieve your symptoms of GERD and can help with its complications. Treatments are available in over-the-counter and prescription forms, and all work to reduce the amount of acid in your stomach.

Talk to your healthcare provider about which one is right for you. And be sure to tell your healthcare provider if you currently taking any medicines for your heartburn symptoms—this way he or she can make sure you get the best treatment for you!

Here are some of the most common OTC (over-the-counter) medicines for GERD:

Antacids

Help neutralize stomach acid. These drugs are taken several times a day when you experience symptoms. Antacids may help relieve your symptoms, but they may not help to heal a damaged esophagus.

H2 Blockers

Reduce the production of acid in your stomach. These drugs are usually taken after meals. H2 blockers are good at relieving your symptoms, but may not be strong enough to control symptoms or heal damage of acid reflux disease. Higher doses of H2 blockers are available in prescription-only form and should be taken as instructed by a healthcare professional.

For many people with GERD, OTC medicines are not enough to control the symptoms and heal the esophagus. If you have frequent and severe symptoms, your healthcare provider may recommend a prescription medicine like these:

H2 Blockers

Reduce the production of acid in your stomach. They do this by blocking a signal that leads to acid secretion. Prescription strength H2 blockers are normally taken 2 or more times a day.

Promotility (proh-moh-TIL-i-tee) agents

Increase the rate your stomach empties its contents. These drugs are normally taken several times a day.

Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)

Block an enzyme in your stomach called the proton pump that stimulates acid secretion. PPIs block acid more completely than H2 blockers. They are considered the most effective treatment for controlling symptoms of GERD and for helping to heal the esophagus. These drugs are normally taken once a day.

 

If you have any questions or wish to schedule an appointment, please do not hesitate to call the office at (706) 548-0058. Remember that we usually require that you see a primary care physician (your family doctor or PCP) before we can schedule you. If you are having a medical emergency, get medical attention immediately at your nearest healthcare provider:

Athens Regional Medical Center: (706) 475-7000
St. Mary's Hospital: (706) 354-3000

 

This informational material is taken from resources by AstraZeneca LP and Caremark, Inc.

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