November is GERD Awareness Month. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, over 60 million Americans experience heartburn, the most common symptom of GERD.

GERD (or gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a medical condition in which stomach acid, food, and fluid flow back into the esophagus. Anyone can develop GERD, but it’s more common in the aging population as well as in pregnant women.

What causes GERD?

GERD happens when there is a frequent acid reflux. This can happen when the lower esophageal sphincter, the circular band at the bottom of the esophagus, weakens or relaxes abnormally. This causes the stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus.

There are different things that can weaken or loosen the lower esophageal sphincter. These include smoking, alcohol, certain foods and medications, an increase in abdominal pressure such as in the case of pregnancy and obesity, and hiatal hernia.

Signs and Symptoms

A burning sensation in the chest area (heartburn) is the most distinct symptom of GERD. This sensation can spread in the throat, giving you a sour taste in your mouth. Aside from heartburn, GERD can also cause difficulty in swallowing, hoarseness of voice, sore throat, and a sensation of a lump in the throat.

Diagnosing and Managing GERD

In some cases, the doctor can diagnose GERD based on your symptoms and medical history. However, there are also cases on which further tests may be done to confirm the diagnosis and determine the extent of the damage. Ambulatory acid probe test (measures the amount of acid in your esophagus), upper GI series, endoscopy, and esophageal motility test (also known as manometry) are some of the tests that may be recommended.

Initially, lifestyle changes are recommended to alleviate the symptoms of GERD. These include avoidance of certain foods like carbonated drinks, citrus drinks, coffee, fatty, and spicy food. If you are smoking or constantly drinking alcohol, you may be advised to quit smoking and moderate your alcohol consumption.

When GERD symptoms persist, there are over-the-counter medications that can help. These include histamine H2 receptor antagonists like cimetidine and proton pump inhibitors like omeprazole.

If you are still suffering from GERD symptoms despite the lifestyle changes and taking of OTC medications, you may be recommended for surgery.

Fundoplication is a surgery for treating reflux disease. It is a laparoscopic procedure in which part of the stomach closest to the esophagus is wrapped and sutured around the lower end of the esophagus and lower esophageal sphincter. This increases the pressure at the lower end of the esophagus, reducing the acid reflux.

A thorough evaluation is needed before surgery is done. At Premier Surgical in Knoxville, our board-certified surgeons, who are skilled in assessing, diagnosing, and treating conditions of the alimentary tract. If you’re having difficulty finding relief for your long-term GERD symptoms, contact us today.