The cases of gastrointestinal disorders are on the rise recently due to a variety of reasons. One of such health issues is GERD – a complicated condition. It requires major changes in lifestyle and has a complicated treatment.
In accordance with the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pharmacology and Therapeutics, an effective management of GERD involves medical therapy. Surgery may also be as well along with some shifts in the lifestyle of the person.
There are still many people who do not know much about the health condition. Even though the disease is now prevalent. Many times, the patients of GERD are not aware of having it.
Its signs such as difficulty in digestion or swallowing are not taken in a serious manner. Most people ignore them as they think they are everyday health issues.
What Is GERD?
The most common issue related to the esophagus among the cases is heartburn. Eructation or what is better known as belching is an another. The complication linked to the gastric reflux such as GERD is the third.
GERD stands for gastrointestinal reflux disease. People call it heartburn in everyday language. It is an issue that affects the esophagus the most. 1 out of 5 people in the United States suffers from symptoms of GERD according to the statistics.
The complication is important as it can lead to major health issues related to the esophagus. For example, in severe cases, it can cause the formation of bleeding ulcers in the esophagus.
GERD has also been a symptom of a serious health condition known as Barrett’s esophagus in a lot of cases. This disease has been many times tied to the formation of cancerous tumors in the esophagus as well.
The medical definition of GERD states it to indicate signs of an unusual reflux of gastric substances. This leads to mucosal damage where the gastric content can travel into the esophagus. It may go as far as the lungs and the oral cavity.
What Are the Types of GERD?
The condition has two main types – erosive reflux disease and non-erosive reflux disease. The presence and severity of mucosal damage in the esophagus is the main difference between both. It is also used to classify the type.
A common assumption is that overproduction of acid causes GERD. This is why most of the people tend to suggest drinking cold water or other drinks. It is to cool down the supposed ‘heartburn’.
The patients having acid reflux or GERD do not usually have it because of the too much acid in the some. The patients actually have the acid in the wrong place. Some adults even have a lower acid production.
A part of the esophagus known as the esophageal sphincter controls the stomach acid. It stops the acid from going into wrong places.
The stomach acid is able to enter the lungs, esophagus, and oral cavity if this valve is not functioning. It is only after this valve loses strength or relaxes too much and hence does not function like it used to.
The most common and instant signs of GERD are burning sensations. They accompanied by pain in the chest and difficulty in swallowing. Some people might also experience perpetual sore and discomfort in the throat.
What Are The Symptoms Of GERD?
GERD has some of the most visible symptoms that can be detected by anyone. This is, if they are not brushed off as effects of overeating or as a part of the process of aging. The most common symptoms of the health condition include:
Having a sour taste in mouth (which does not go away even after brushing)
Burning sensations in the chest (as well as the throat)
Belching (which is due to the gas trapped in the upper part of the digestive system)
Signs of a chronic cough and asthma
Difficulty breathing (especially during exercising or having a fever and even when sleeping)
Difficulty in swallowing and digesting (even when eating normally like before)
How Do the Symptoms Differ?
The signs of the GERD are divided into typical and atypical by the researchers. Majority of the symptoms are visible the most after having a meal. The ingredients of the meal are also important as they can make a difference.
The meals consisting of processed and unhealthy food usually have the strongest symptoms. They include signs such as severe acidity and severe heartburn.
The atypical symptoms of GERD include dyspepsia, belching, epigastric pain, bloating, and nausea. The secondary category symptoms may also affect the esophagus and the throat. It may end up causing asthma and chronic coughing.
These signs, however, are only seen in patients with esophageal damage. This is because there are shared nerves that control the esophagus and cough reflex. They can weaken and get inflamed over the passage of time.
Such damage along with mucosal complications and esophageal acid exposure can be harmful. It can lead to situations where the patient can have a variety of respiratory issues. This includes extreme difficulty in breathing and pain while trying to breathe.
What Are The Risk Associated?
Without proper treatment, GERD can cause even more dangerous health conditions. It may even cause cancerous tumors in the esophagus and Barrett’s esophagus. The formation of ulcers in the esophagus worsened asthma as well as tissue scarring are also a risk.
The latest studies show that GERD and related complications can affect the mental health of a person too. Patients with GERD often have disturbed mental condition. This may also affect the way they respond to different medication.
Lowered mental health can also pose a great threat. The medication for the complication might also become slower or not effective at all. So, mental therapy is a need during the treatment of GERD.
What Causes GERD?
Researchers believed that GERD is a result of the overproduction of stomach in the acid. Acid traveling up to the esophagus does cause reflux and signs very similar to GERD. It may cause chest pain, difficulty swallowing, burning sensation, and bloating.
Both GERD and acid reflux also have common causes. Some are older age, history of a hiatal hernia, pregnancy, having a diet full of unhealthy foods, imbalance of stomach acid, and obesity. A person with acid reflux is more likely to develop this condition.
The main test used for detecting GERD in patients is 24 hour pH monitoring tests. This test look at the contact of the esophagus with the acid from the stomach. The prevalence and severity of related symptoms are also seen.
What Are the Risk Factors?
The common belief was that the contact of the stomach acid with the esophagus causes damage. This makes a person weak enough for GERD and hence paves the way for it to develop.
A study published in the Journal of American Medication Association in 2016 presented a different side of the picture. According to the research, acid reflux does add to signs of GERD. But the main cause is actually abnormal inflammatory responses.
The inflammation caused by the secretion of specific proteins such as cytokines. These cause inflammation in different parts of the digestive system. It then results in various inflammatory responses. This damages the tissue cells in the esophagus.
There is also plenty of evidence to show many patients of GERD do not suffer from acid reflux. A study on 900 patients looked at the production of stomach acid and found that 12% of the symptoms were associated with acid reflux.
Most of the patients with high levels of acid belonged to the older age groups. The younger patients had stable acid levels and little or no signs caused by acid reflux.
The most common causes of GERD hence are having a sedentary lifestyle, poor gut health, and an unhealthy diet. Smoking, weak immune system, and bad habits may also be responsible for it.
Other conditions that can cause or increase the chances of GERD include chronic stress, pregnancy and a history of a hiatal hernia.
As a graduate of Public Health and Policy, Andrea developed an interest in disease development, food and safety and the latest advancements in health. She is a Freelance writer who had affiliations with multiple blogs. Andrea is now pursuing her post-doctorate in Behavioral Sciences.
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