GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a condition that plagues up to one third of the U.S. population at one point or another. Sometimes GERD is caused by common digestive upsets, but at other times it is an indication of an underlying problem. Let’s briefly review what GERD is, its symptoms, and common causes.
What is GERD?
In normal, healthy digestion, the food or drink we consume travels in one direction. It moves from the mouth to the stomach via the esophagus, sits in the stomach long enough to allow the body’s natural acids to break it down, and then travels through the rest of the digestive tract. This process is necessary for the body’s processing of what we eat or drink.
The stomach has a lining to protect it from all of the digestive acids that break down the food we eat. The esophagus, however, does not have this lining. With GERD, the contents of the stomach travel up through the esophagus, causing damage and pain because the esophagus is not protected from the acid.
Symptoms of GERD (also called acid reflux) include heartburn, indigestion, regurgitation of food and drink into the chest or throat, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness and dry cough. Any of these symptoms, experienced on a semi-regular basis, warrant a trip to your physician to find out what’s going on.
Common Causes of GERD
The main cause of GERD is a failure of normal mechanisms that keep what we eat or drink going in one direction. There is a sphincter (like a trap door) between the esophagus and the stomach that opens to allow food and drink to travel to the stomach and closes after. A prominent mechanism in GERD patients causes the trap door to stay open when it is not supposed to. Hence, the stomach contents can go back in the wrong direction, and the acid from the stomach can damage the esophagus.
Here are five common conditions that can cause this experience:
Rarer is GERD caused by a connective tissue disease like scleroderma.
Some of these situations are preventable or treatable. Getting off medications that irritate the stomach and keeping weight down can help some people, but others need more help. In order to diagnose GERD definitively, it’s important to see a doctor.
If you’re concerned you may have GERD, contact us today to make an appointment.