Heartburn, Reflux And GERD … Oh My!
At some point, after a big meal or perhaps drinking a bit too much (or both!), you’ve probably had at least a touch of heartburn – that burning sensation in your chest that tells you that you overdid it.
It usually isn’t a big deal and doesn’t last too long – if it truly bothers you, you can pop an antacid and it generally will go away.
But what if it doesn’t? What if it happens a lot? What if the symptoms become more alarming – nausea, stomach pain or even vomiting or passing blood in your stool? What then? Could you have acid reflux or even GERD? And what’s the difference anyway?
First, some definitions:
- Acid reflux is the term that refers to stomach acid flowing backwards into your esophagus, the tube that connects the throat and stomach.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is considered by many to be a more severe form of acid reflux. However, Crozer-Keystone gastroenterologist Dr. Joyann Kroser says they’re really the same thing.
“There really is not a difference between ‘acid reflux’ and GER(D),” says Joyann Kroser, M.D., Crozer-Keystone gastroenterologist. “GERD is a medical and acid reflux more of layperson’s term. GERD can be thought of like a pyramid. At the bottom are millions of normal health people who experience occasional heartburn, indigestion, etc. At the tippy top are the much smaller percentage of people who are usually seen by gastroenterologists after failing treatment with a variety of acid lowering drugs.”
Kroser recommends that people who have symptoms more than three times a week should consult a doctor. People should also see a doctor even if symptoms aren’t quite that persistent if they have alarming signs such as persistent nausea and vomiting, trouble swallowing food, or are throwing up or passing blood.
If GERD goes untreated, it could become more problematic, with conditions such as esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus), stricture (or narrowing) of the esophagus, Barrett’s esophagus (a potentially premalignant condition) or – in very rare cases - esophageal cancer.
“For most people, GERD is a quality of life issue and not a life-threatening condition or one that should limit them in anyway,” Kroser says.
For these folks, simple lifestyle changes can make all the difference. If heartburn or reflux are issues, try to avoid fatty and fried foods, tomato-based or spicy foods, alcohol and caffeine. It also can help to eat more frequent smaller meals rather than large meals. Additionally, don’t eat too close to bedtime. Being overweight or a smoker can also exacerbate reflux issues; just one more reason to address these health concerns.
Crozer-Keystone offers a range of board-certified physicians who are trained in the latest technologies and procedures to comprehensively diagnose, manage and treat gastrointestinal and liver conditions. For more information or to make an appointment, visit http://gi.crozerkeystone.org or call 1 1-877-CKHS-GI1 (254-7441).