GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a condition where the opening between the stomach and the esophagus frequently opens up and allows food and stomach acid to move back up into the esophagus. Everybody experiences gastroesophageal reflux (GER) from time to time, but when it occurs frequently (twice a week or more) and causes disruption to daily life, it is classified as GERD.
Heartburn and acid indigestion are terms that refer to the pain that occurs when the acid splashes back up into the esophagus. Over time, GERD that is allowed to persist without treatment can cause complications such as damage and ulcers in the lining of the esophagus. Esophageal cancer is also a possibility.
In some people, an abnormality called a hiatal hernia can lead to the development of GERD. Other risk factors, however, can be managed in some cases. For example, smoking, obesity or being pregnant all increase your risk of GERD. There are also certain foods that are more likely to exacerbate the problem, such as spicy foods, tomato-based foods, garlic and onions, citrus, chocolate, fatty or fried foods and drinks with caffeine or alcohol in them.
Prevention and Treatment
Losing weight, quitting smoking and avoiding irritating foods are all steps you can take to lessen your risk of GERD or to help with treatment. You can also take simple steps to prevent GERD close to bedtime by elevating the head of your bed by 6 to 8 inches, and by avoiding sleeping or lying down two to three hours after eating.
There are a number of medications that can help prevent it from occurring or actively treat the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux. In situations where the GERD is more serious or if damage has begun to occur in the esophagus, surgery to repair or remove the damaged tissue may be an option for some.
SOURCES: National Institutes of Health: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse; Asthma and Immunology.