Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD occurs when stomach acid refluxes or moves backward into the esophagus and possibly higher into the mouth or airway structures. Heartburn is a key symptom of GERD
Stomach acid helps digest the food we eat. The lining of the stomach is built to handle the strong acid it produces. However, the cells lining the esophagus are different. This is the reason why the back flow of acid irritates the esophagus and causes a burning sensation in the chest or throat known as heartburn.
GERD can strike people of all ages, but statistics show that the risk increases with age and dramatically rises after age 40. About 10 percent of Americans have episodes of heartburn every day, and 44 percent have symptoms at least once a month. It has been estimated that...
Although the exact reason why GERD develops is still unclear, there are a number of factors that are known to increase one's risk of this health problem. Read more about GERD and risk factors
Doctors believe that GERD is largely attributable to the way the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) works. The LES is the valve on the bottom part of the esophagus, it is a complex segment of smooth muscles which works under the control of nerves as well as various hormones. This valve normally relaxes to allow food or liquid to pass into the stomach, then closes again to keep food and stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus.
Heartburn and regurgitation are classic symptoms of GERD. The back flow of acid stimulates the nerve fibers in the esophagus, and this commonly results in heartburn. The episodes of heartburn can last up to a couple of hours. It is usually described as burning pain behind the breast bone. The discomfort may start in the epigastric area or the upper abdomen and may spread into the neck. In some cases, the pain may be sharp or pressure-like, rather than burning. It may even be mistaken as a heart attack. Some patients report that the pain may extend to the back. Acid reflux is more common after meals, hence many people who have GERD notice that their heartburn is worse after eating.
Heartburn is also more common when on supine position or flat on the back. Without the effects of...
Most cases of GERD can be diagnosed and treated by primary care doctors. However some patients may require referral to gastroenterologists, the doctors who specialize in the diseases of the digestive system.
Many cases of GERD can be diagnosed on the basis of medical history and physical exam results. Your doctor will ask you a number of questions pertaining to the symptoms, such as their onset, frequency, and severity. It is also important for the doctor to find out what you do to relieve you from your symptoms and what seems to make them worse.
Physical examination is also an important diagnostic tool. During this procedure your doctor will:
- check your vital signs
- assess your heart and lung sounds
- examine your ears, nose, throat and teeth
- listen to your gastric...
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