Up to 20 percent of American adults experience occasional heartburn. Many people chalk it up to eating a spicy or fatty meal. But if it starts occurring more frequently, it could be caused by something more serious, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
GERD occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into your esophagus, eventually leading to discomfort and irritation. Some people mistakenly believe heartburn, acid reflux and GERD are the same thing. The difference between the three is that heartburn is a symptom, acid reflux is the event and GERD is the disease.
If you have GERD, you may experience these symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Regurgitation of food
- Sensation of a lump in your throat
- Disrupted sleep
If you frequently experience these symptoms, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor. He or she can assess your symptoms and may recommend further testing, such as an endoscopy. If you’re diagnosed with GERD, treatment usually begins with making lifestyle changes including:
- Maintaining a healthy weight – If you’re overweight, losing just 10 percent of your body weight can make a significant difference.
- Avoiding eating or drinking within three hours of going to bed
- Elevating the head of your bed by putting the feet of your bed on a riser to create a 30-degree angle
- Minimizing trigger foods including spicy foods, caffeine and chocolate. Also avoid eating large, fatty meals.
- Avoiding or minimizing alcohol
- Quitting smoking
If lifestyle changes are not enough, prescription-strength medication or minimally invasive surgery may be an option.
Edward-Elmhurst Health’s gastrointestinal specialists are available to help patients better manage their symptoms and effectively treat conditions such as GERD. We use sophisticated types of endoscopy to accurately diagnose and identify patients who need further treatment.
To learn more about GERD, make an appointment online or call 630-527-3200.