Gastrointestinal reflux disease, or GERD, is an illness of the upper GI tract that effects about 60 ,million Americans. Of these millions of people suffering the ill effects of this disease, many are elderly, and pregnant women also make up a large percentage of GERD sufferers.
The most common symptom associated with GERD is frequent heartburn, but there are also a number of other symptoms caused by gastrointestinal reflux disease, some of which may even be more serious than the recurrent heartburn GERD is famous for.
GERD is essentially caused by the backflow of stomach acid and food contents from the stomach to the esophagus. These contents are allowed to backflow because of a weakness or deformity in the lower esophageal sphincter, which acts as a valve allowing food to go into the upper stomach from the esophagus, but preventing food and stomach acid from backwashing into the esophagus. Stomach acid is produced by the stomach to help digest food. When the lower esophageal sphincter is not working correctly, food and stomach acid flow back into the esophagus, which does not have the same protective lining that the stomach has, and thus cannot cope with the acid being allowed to reflux there. This causes the esophagus to become very irritated, causing the symptoms of GERD.
It's important to note that not everyone who has GERD experiences the heartburn commonly associated with the illness. In particular, elderly patients who develop GERD often do not experience heartburn, but instead have other symptoms, such as difficulty in swallowing.
It's completely normal to have an occasional case of heartburn. However, when you're experiencing heartburn on a basis of two days or more per week its likely that you have GERD. As mentioned before, GERD has symptoms other than heartburn, and these can be quite uncomfortable as well. There's a very good chance that you have GERD if you're experiencing heartburn and the following:
Regurgitation is one of the symptoms of GERD. Basically, regurgiation is when the liquid your stomach is refluxing appears in your mouth. Most of the time, GERD sufferers only reflux a little liquid into the esophagus, and the majority of the time this liquid stays in the lower esophagus. Occasionally, however, the liquid is refluxed into the upper esophagus, and if these liquids breach the upper esophageal sphincter, GERD sufferers may experience an acidic taste in their mouths or the taste of bile. In addition to being very uncomfortable, folks with regurgitation problems over time may experience problems with their teeth as the acid contributes to tooth decay.
If the stomach acid frequently gets into the upper esophagus, it may cause other symptoms such as hoarseness or sore throat. This is caused when the stomach acid or bile gets into the larynx or voice box, agitating these body parts.
Another symptom of GERD is nausea. Some patients who suffer from GERD may experience the recurrent feeling that they have to vomit. Some may even experience frequent vomiting. If you're experiencing frequent unexplained bouts of nausea or vomiting, there may be a good chance that you have GERD.
Sufferers of GERD can also commonly experience sleep problems, including sleep aponea. Sleep apnea is a sleeping disorder that results in pauses in breathing during sleep. It's potentially deadly, so it's definitely something to be concerned about if you have it. GERD apparently contributes to sleep apnea by the irritation and inflamation of the airway by stomach acid refluxed as a result of the illness. If you believe you have sleep apnea, and particularly if you display any of the other symptoms of GERD, you will want to see a doctor to check for GERD.
Because of the chance that GERD may contribute to esophageal cancer, a particularly deadly form of cancer, if you suspect that you may have GERD, you should see a doctor as soon as convenient to be tested for the illness. Modern medical technology makes GERD rather simple to recognize and treat. Depending on your circumstances, you'll likely be started on a regimen of medication to reduce your production of stomach acid, or you may be a candidate for certain surgeries that can repair or strengthen your lower esophageal valve.
The best news about GERD symptoms is that they are treatable and with the appropriate medical care and discipline on your part you can greatly reduce these symptoms and enjoy a normal life.