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Acid Reflux: Relief for an Uncomfortable Condition

In Brief

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which food or liquid travels backward through the digestive tract, from the stomach to the esophagus. 
  • Symptoms include heartburn, regurgitation, nausea, belching, wheezing and sore throat.
  • GERD can be treated with dietary changes and medication to relieve heartburn symptoms.

If you’re bothered by frequent heartburn or a burning sensation in your chest, you may be one of 15 million Americans who suffer from chronic acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is a condition in which food or liquid travels backward through the digestive tract, from the stomach to the esophagus. This action can irritate the esophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms.

“We see a lot of people with GERD in our practice,” says Mark Jacobs, M.D., chief of the Section of Gastroenterology at Delaware County Memorial Hospital. “This condition can affect people of all ages.”

Though people experience GERD in a variety of ways and heartburn by itself is not life-threatening, anyone who has been kept up at night with reflux knows that it can affect quality of life. Also, frequent, chronic heartburn can be damaging to the esophagus, leading to a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus, which can increase the risk of developing cancer.

“It’s fair to say that acid reflux is a common problem across the general population but only a small number of those people will have Barrett’s esophagus,” says John Wade Seedor, M.D., chief of the Section of Gastroenterology at Taylor Hospital. “Still, a person who has severe reflux problems needs to be examined because there are other complications that can arise from GERD, such as swallowing difficulty, atypical chest pain and non-GI problems such as coughing, wheezing and hoarse voice.”

Symptoms of acid reflux include: 

  • Heartburn, more frequent or worse at night
  • Regurgitation
  • Nausea
  • Wheezing
  • Sore throat

“I would advise patients that have chronic acid reflux symptoms to see a doctor,” says Immanuel Ho, M.D., chief of the Division of Gastroenterology at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. “All patients who have chronic severe reflux should be screened for Barrett’s esophagus. And it is very important that patients relay any alarm symptoms, such as difficulty swallowing, weight loss or a history of anemia to their doctor.”

GERD can be treated with dietary changes and medication to relieve heartburn symptoms. Doctors typically recommend avoiding spicy, acidic and fatty foods, as well as alcohol and caffeine. Factors such as obesity, diabetes and medication (nitrites, aspirin, beta blockers) can also contribute to the problem. Eating dinner at least two or three hours before going to bed and elevating the head of the bed by a few inches can help.

Crozer-Keystone GI doctors have found that most of their GERD patients can find relief from these strategies. “The medications today are very effective, and there are many different options for treatment,” Jacobs says.

Seedor agrees, adding that in recent years, public awareness about GERD has been growing. “What’s hopeful is that more people are coming for medical attention about reflux than in the past. We are identifying it more and people are getting checked more often,” he says.

For more information about Crozer-Keystone gastroenterology services, visit www.ckhsgi.org. Call 1-877-CKHS-GI1 (1-877-254-7441) or visit http://gi.crozer.org to request an appointment for a colonoscopy or endoscopy procedure, or for an appointment with a gastroenterologist.

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