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GERD Specialist in Concord, NC

What is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) happens when your stomach contents come back up into your esophagus. Acid reflux and heartburn are common conditions many people experience from time to time. However, if symptoms are chronic (two or more times a week), you may be diagnosed with Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Common Symptoms of GERD

Signs and symptoms of GERD may include:

  • A burning sensation in your chest (heartburn/acid indigestion)
  • Chest pain*
  • Dry cough, hoarseness, or sore throat
  • Regurgitation of food/liquid (acid reflux)
  • Sour taste in the mouth

*Seek immediate medical attention if you have chest pain, especially with other symptoms like arm pain, as these may be signs of a heart attack.

Common Causes of GERD

GER and GERD happen when your lower esophageal sphincter becomes weak or relaxes when it shouldn’t, causing stomach contents to rise up into the esophagus (reflux). Things that may cause this include:

  • Increased abdominal pressure from being overweight, obese, or pregnant
  • Certain medicines, including some blood pressure and depression medications
  • Dry mouth, which can also be a side effect of some medication
  • Smoking, or inhaling secondhand smoke​

Constant acid reflux can wear away the esophageal lining, causing complications such as bleeding or esophageal narrowing.

How To Get Diagnosed

Your Northeast Digestive Health Center doctor may diagnose GERD following a physical exam and reviewing your medical history. Additional tests may be required to confirm or rule out other causes. This may include blood, stool or breath tests. Your doctor may also order an endoscopy to examine your upper digestive system.

Are There Any Risk Factors For GERD

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing GERD; other factors can aggravate your acid reflux associated with GERD. Risk factors for developing GERD include:

  • Obesity
  • Having a hiatal hernia, which is when the top of your stomach bulges up into your diaphragm
  • Pregnancy
  • Having scleroderma or another connective tissue disorder that affects the smooth muscle tissue of the LES
  • Delayed stomach emptying, which is a condition in which food stays in your stomach longer than it should

Risk factors for aggravating acid reflux can include:

  • Eating large meals or eating late at night
  • Smoking
  • Eating “trigger” foods, such as spicy or fried foods
  • Drinking coffee, alcohol, or other certain beverages
  • Taking certain medications, such as aspirin, which may prevent the body from protecting the esophagus

Possible Complications of GERD

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, leading to symptoms such as heartburn, regurgitation, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing. While GERD itself is not usually life-threatening, it can lead to complications over time. Some possible complications of GERD include:

  • Esophagitis: The repeated exposure of the esophagus to stomach acid can cause inflammation, leading to a condition known as esophagitis. This inflammation may result in pain, difficulty swallowing, and in severe cases, bleeding.
  • Barrett's Esophagus: Long-term and untreated GERD can cause changes in the lining of the esophagus, known as Barrett's esophagus. Barrett's esophagus is a precancerous condition that may increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer over time.
  • Strictures: Chronic exposure to stomach acid can cause the formation of scar tissue in the esophagus, leading to the narrowing of the esophageal passage. This condition is called a stricture and can result in difficulty swallowing.
  • Respiratory Issues: Stomach acid that reaches the throat and airways can irritate, leading to respiratory problems such as coughing, wheezing, asthma, or recurrent pneumonia.
  • Dental Problems: The acid from the stomach can erode tooth enamel, leading to dental issues such as tooth decay, sensitivity, and an increased risk of cavities.
  • Barrett's Esophagus and Esophageal Cancer: In rare cases, Barrett's esophagus can progress to esophageal adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer. Regular monitoring and treatment are essential to manage the risk of cancer in individuals with Barrett's esophagus.
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis: Severe cases of GERD, especially when it leads to aspiration (inhalation of stomach contents into the lungs), may contribute to the development of pulmonary fibrosis, a condition where lung tissue becomes scarred.
  • Bleeding: Inflammation in the esophagus can cause small blood vessels to bleed. This can lead to the development of iron-deficiency anemia.

Individuals with GERD need to seek medical attention and follow recommended treatments to prevent or manage these complications. Lifestyle modifications, dietary changes, medications, and, in some cases, surgery may be part of the treatment plan. Regular follow-up with a healthcare professional is crucial to monitor symptoms and assess the effectiveness of the chosen interventions. If you experience persistent or worsening symptoms of GERD, consult with your healthcare provider for appropriate evaluation and management.

What is The Treatment for GERD

You may be able to control GERD by avoiding reflux triggers, like:

  • Not consuming food/liquids that cause symptoms, such as spicy foods and alcoholic drinks
  • Not overeating
  • Not eating 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • Losing weight if you’re overweight or obese
  • Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke
  • Taking over-the-counter medicines, such as acid reducers

Many people can manage GERD on their own. However, some people may need stronger medications or even surgery. Your gastroenterologist will recommend treatment following the determination of potential underlying causes of your reflux symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can GERD cause shortness of breath?

Yes, GERD can induce shortness of breath due to the irritation of the esophagus by stomach acid, triggering respiratory symptoms like wheezing or the sensation of being unable to take a deep breath. This occurs as acid reflux can reach the upper respiratory tract, causing irritation and inflammation. Management typically involves lifestyle adjustments such as avoiding trigger foods, elevating the head during sleep, and medications like proton pump inhibitors to reduce acid production, alleviating respiratory discomfort associated with GERD.

Is GERD curable?

While GERD is usually not curable, it can be effectively managed through various treatments to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. Lifestyle modifications such as dietary changes, weight management, and avoiding trigger foods can help, along with medications like proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers to reduce acid production and promote healing of the esophagus. In severe cases, surgical interventions may be considered to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter or correct anatomical abnormalities contributing to GERD.

Does GERD go away?

GERD symptoms may subside and even disappear for some individuals, but for many, it's a chronic condition that necessitates ongoing management. Factors such as diet, lifestyle, stress levels, and underlying health conditions can influence the severity and frequency of GERD symptoms. Working closely with a healthcare provider to develop an individualized treatment plan and regularly monitoring symptoms can help individuals effectively manage GERD over the long term.

Can GERD cause back pain?

Yes, GERD can lead to back pain as acid reflux irritates the esophagus and affects nearby nerves, resulting in discomfort or pain that may radiate to the upper back or between the shoulder blades. This referred pain stems from the interconnected network of nerves in the upper gastrointestinal tract, transmitting pain signals to other areas of the body. Addressing GERD symptoms through lifestyle modifications, medications, and avoiding trigger foods can help alleviate associated back pain.

How to reduce GERD?

Lifestyle changes play a crucial role in managing GERD, including maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding trigger foods such as spicy, fatty, or acidic items, eating smaller meals, not lying down immediately after eating and elevating the head of the bed during sleep. Additionally, medications such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 blockers can be prescribed to reduce stomach acid production and alleviate symptoms. It's essential to work closely with a healthcare provider to tailor treatment to individual needs and monitor progress effectively.

What foods cause GERD?

Foods that commonly trigger GERD symptoms include spicy foods, fatty or fried items, citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate, caffeine, carbonated beverages, alcohol, and peppermint. These foods can relax the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus and trigger symptoms like heartburn and acid reflux. Avoiding these trigger foods can help reduce GERD symptoms and improve overall digestive health.

What helps GERD?

Treatment for GERD typically involves a multifaceted approach, including lifestyle modifications and medications. Lifestyle changes encompass dietary adjustments, weight management, elevating the head of the bed, and avoiding lying down after meals. Medications such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 blockers can help reduce stomach acid production and alleviate symptoms. In severe cases or when medications are ineffective, surgical interventions may be considered to strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter or correct anatomical abnormalities contributing to GERD.

Can anxiety cause GERD?

While anxiety itself may not directly cause GERD, it can exacerbate symptoms in individuals who already have the condition. Stress and anxiety can lead to changes in digestive patterns, increase stomach acid production, and exacerbate symptoms like heartburn and acid reflux. Therefore, managing stress through relaxation techniques, exercise, and counseling can help reduce GERD symptoms and improve overall well-being.

Can GERD cause nausea?

Yes, GERD can induce nausea in some individuals. Acid reflux and irritation of the esophagus can trigger feelings of nausea, especially if stomach contents flow backward into the esophagus and cause discomfort or irritation. Nausea may also be accompanied by other GERD symptoms such as heartburn or regurgitation. Managing GERD symptoms through lifestyle modifications, medications, and avoiding trigger foods can help alleviate associated nausea and promote digestive comfort.

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Northeast Digestive Health Center
1070 Vinehaven Drive NE
Concord, North Carolina 28025
Phone: (704)783-1840
Fax: (704)783-1850
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