What is it?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common condition, where acid from the stomach leaks up into the oesophagus (gullet). GERD causes symptoms such as heartburn and an unpleasant taste in the back of the mouth. It may just be an occasional nuisance for some people, but for others it can be a severe, lifelong problem. GERD can often be controlled with self-help measures and medication. Occasionally, surgery to correct the problem may be needed.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are heartburn and acid reflux. * Heartburn: Heartburn is an uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest. It’s usually felt just below your breastbone, but can spread up to the throat in some people. The discomfort is usually worse after eating, or when bending over or lying down. * Acid reflux: Acid reflux is where acid and other stomach contents are brought back up (regurgitated) into your throat and mouth. It usually causes an unpleasant, sour taste at the back of your mouth. * Other symptoms If you have GERD, you may also experience: * a sore, inflamed oesophagus (oesophagitis) * bad breath * bloating and belching * feeling or being sick * difficulty swallowing, which may feel like a piece of food is stuck low down in your throat * pain when swallowing * a sore throat and hoarseness * a persistent cough or wheezing, which may be worse at night * tooth decay and gum disease If you also have asthma, the symptoms may get worse as a result of stomach acid irritating your airways.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Excess pounds put pressure on your abdomen, pushing up your stomach and causing acid to back up into your esophagus. If your weight is healthy, work to maintain it. If you are overweight or obese, work to slowly lose weight — no more than 1 or 2 pounds (0.5 to 1 kilogram) a week. Ask your doctor for help in devising a weight-loss strategy that will work for you.
- Eat smaller meals.
- Elevate the head of your bed. If you regularly experience heartburn at night or while trying to sleep, put gravity to work for you. Place wood or cement blocks under the feet of your bed so that the head end is raised by 6 to 9 inches. If it’s not possible to elevate your bed, you can insert a wedge between your mattress and box spring to elevate your body from the waist up. Wedges are available at drugstores and medical supply stores. Raising your head with additional pillows is not effective.
- Avoid tight-fitting clothing. Clothes that fit tightly around your waist put pressure on your abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter.
- Avoid foods and drinks that trigger heartburn. Everyone has specific triggers. Common triggers such as fatty or fried foods, tomato sauce, alcohol, chocolate, mint, garlic, onion, and caffeine may make heartburn worse. Avoid foods you know will trigger your heartburn.
- Avoid overeating by eating smaller meals.
- Don’t lie down after a meal. Wait at least three hours after eating before lying down or going to bed.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking decreases the lower esophageal sphincter’s ability to function properly.
Things to watch out for
GERD can be easily treated at home using over-the-counter medications, such as antacids. GP may prescribe Proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) if your symptoms don’t get better.