Treatments for Heartburn | Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) | Gastrointestinal Society


If you have ever felt a gnawing, burning sensation
in your chest or throat after eating a large or greasy meal, then you probably know the
discomfort of heartburn. It is a common symptom, caused by stomach
contents spilling back up into the esophagus. The stomach has a lining to protect it from
acid, but the esophagus does not. There is supposed to be a valve located where the stomach and esophagus join, called the lower esophageal sphincter valve, or L.E.S. When the L.E.S. malfunctions or is damaged,
it doesn’t close properly to keep the contents down in the stomach where they belong. For those who have gastroesophageal reflux
disease, or GERD, the backflow of acidic stomach contents can be ongoing. Chronic acid reflux symptoms include heartburn,
a sensation of food moving up the throat or into the mouth, a bitter or sour taste in
the mouth, persistent sore throat, hoarseness, chronic coughing, difficult or painful swallowing,
asthma, unexplained chest pain, bad breath, a feeling of a lump in the throat, and an
uncomfortable feeling of fullness after meals. In more severe cases of untreated GERD, permanent
damage can occur to the teeth, as the harsh stomach acid erodes tooth enamel. Damage can also occur in the esophagus, larynx,
mouth, or any part of the upper digestive tract that is regularly exposed to acidic
stomach contents. GERD is very common, affecting approximately
13-29% of Canadians. The good news is that with the proper combination
of lifestyle changes and medications, it is possible to manage symptoms and get relief. Dietary changes, while unable to cure GERD,
can reduce symptoms. Fatty or spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine,
tend to worsen symptoms, but everyone is different, so pay attention to what you eat, and avoid
foods that make you feel worse. You should also reduce meal size, as smaller,
more frequent meals cause less acid reflux than large meals. Maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding smoking,
and reducing the amount you eat before bed can help ease reflux symptoms. While sleeping, use gravity to help keep stomach
acid in the stomach by propping up the head of your mattress or bed frame. Don’t just pile on the pillows though, because
this can cause neck and back pain. These changes are a great starting point,
but many people with GERD require further treatment There are two main approaches to treating
GERD with medications: neutralizing acid and blocking its production. Over-the-counter medications are useful for
neutralizing acid. These antacids can provide quick, temporary,
or partial relief but they do not prevent heartburn. Some medications, which are mostly available
by prescription, work to block the production of acid and prevent reflux from occurring
in the first place. By following your physician’s directions
and using a combination of these treatment methods, it is possible to manage symptoms
and live a healthy life. This is Dr. James Gray, on behalf of the Gastrointestinal
Society. To learn more, go to badgut.org/GERD

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