GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, also called acid reflux disease, is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach. Acid reflux is the return of the stomach's contents back up into the esophagus. GERD is mild acid reflux that occurs at least twice a week, or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs at least once a week.

The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn, also called acid indigestion, which usually occurs after eating and might be worse at night. Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing, regurgitation of food or sour liquid, sensation of a lump in your throat, chronic cough, laryngitis and nausea. Many people, including pregnant women, suffer from heartburn or acid indigestion caused by GERD. Many pregnant women experience daily heartburn. Recent studies show that GERD in infants and children is more common than previously recognized and may produce recurrent vomiting, coughing, and other respiratory problems. The severity of GERD depends on LES dysfunction as well as the type and amount of fluid brought up from the stomach and the neutralizing effect of saliva.

One common cause of acid reflux disease is a stomach abnormality called a hiatal hernia. This occurs when the upper part of the stomach and LES move above the diaphragm. Dietary and lifestyle choices may contribute to GERD. Certain foods and beverages, including chocolate, peppermint, fried or fatty foods, coffee, or alcoholic beverages, may trigger reflux and heartburn. Studies show that cigarette smoking relaxes the LES. Obesity and pregnancy can also play a role in GERD symptoms.

Doctors recommend lifestyle and dietary changes for most people with GERD, like avoiding the foods and beverages that trigger symptoms or taking steps to lose weight with exercise and diet changes for overweight or obese people. Medical treatment usually aims at decreasing the amount of reflux or reducing damage to the lining of the esophagus from refluxed materials to prevent complications of frequent acid reflux. Some people may require surgery but are done only as a last resort after medical treatment has proven to be inadequate.

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