There are a band of muscles at the base of the esophagus that open when a person swallows to allow food’s entry into the stomach; they then close to prevent the food from going back up. If these bands of muscle do not open or close properly, the stomach contents move back into the throat. When this happens, the stomach acids present cause a burning sensation in the throat and chest. This is known as acid reflux and is also called heartburn. An occasional incident of this kind is common, but if it happens more than once a week, it may be a case of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD can cause regurgitation of food from the stomach to the mouth, lead to difficulty in swallowing and can result in asthma-like breathing problems and coughing fits.
There are several medical and lifestyle issues that can increase a person’s chances of developing GERD. These include, but are not limited to:
- Tissue disorders
- Hiatal hernia
- Consuming excessively large meals
- Consumption of certain types of food, often fried or spicy items
- Drinking tea, coffee, aerated drinks or alcohol
- Taking certain types of medication such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)
There are several methods of confirming the presence of GERD. These include:
- Drinking a barium solution so that an X-ray image of the digestive tract can be obtained to confirm the presence of GERD.
- Endoscopy: In this procedure, a flexible tube with a minute camera is passed into the esophagus to view the lining and, if needed, a small tissue sample is collected for pathological testing.
- Manometry which uses a flexible tube that is inserted into the esophagus to check the strength and condition of the muscles.
- pH monitoring during which a monitor is inserted into the esophagus to see when and how much stomach acid enters it.
GERD is not normally a serious medical issue. However, in some cases it can lead to serious medical problems such as:
- Inflammation of the esophagus known as esophagitis
- Constriction of the esophagus that makes swallowing difficult
- Permanent damage or changes to the lining of the esophagus
- Asthma, coughing and other respiratory problems caused by the inhalation of the stomach acid into the lungs
- Tooth decay and other dental problems caused by the presence of stomach acid in the mouth
- Oesophageal cancer
Acid reflux is a common problem and GERD, by itself is not normally a serious condition. However, this does not mean that it should be ignored. If untreated, GERD can evolve into a more complex and serious medical condition. Being examined and tested for GERD at new medical centre that has a gastroenterology department with specialists and state-of-the-art equipment to deliver a complete and accurate diagnosis can help in the treatment of GERD.