The cases of gastrointestinal disorders have been on the rise recently due to a variety of reasons. One of such health issues is GERD – a complicated condition that 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 or even surgery along with some shifts in the lifestyle of the person.
There are still a number of people who do not know much about the health condition regardless of its prevalence. Many times, the patients of GERD are not aware of having it since the signs such as difficulty in digestion or swallowing are brushed off as everyday health conditions.
What Is GERD?
Some of the most commonly detected issues related to the esophagus among the cases are heartburn, eructation or what is more widely cited as belching, and the complicated linked to the gastric reflux such as GERD.
GERD stands for gastrointestinal reflux disease and is referred to as heartburn in everyday language. It is an issue that affects the esophagus the most. Statistically, 1 out of 5 people in the United States suffers from symptoms of GERD.
The complication is specifically important as it can lead to major health issues related to the esophagus. For example, in the severe cases, GERD can cause the formation of bleeding ulcers in the esophagus.
Secondly, GERD has also been observed to be linked to a serious health condition known as Barrett’s esophagus which 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 leading to mucosal damage where the gastric content can travel into the esophagus as well as the lungs and the oral cavity.
The condition is divided into two types – erosive reflux disease and non-erosive reflux disease. The presence and severity of mucosal damage in the esophagus are what is used to classify and differentiate between the types.
The common assumption about GERD is that it is caused by overproduction of acid in the stomach which is why most of the people tend to suggest drinking cold water or other drinks to cool down the supposed ‘heartburn’.
However, 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 is responsible for keeping the stomach acid from going into wrong places.
The stomach acid is able to enter the lungs, esophagus, and oral cavity only after this valve loses strength or relaxes too much and hence does not function like it used to.
The most commonly seen and instant signs of GERD are burning sensations 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 easily detected 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)
- Chest pains
- Tooth erosion
- Burning sensations in the chest (as well as the throat)
- Belching (which is caused 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)
- Excessively salivating
- Difficulty in swallowing and digesting (even when eating normally like before)
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 where the ingredients of the meal are also important as they can make a difference.
The meals consisting of processed, sugary, fatty, and unhealthy food usually have the strongest symptoms such as severe acidity and severe heartburn.
The atypical symptoms of GERD include dyspepsia, belching, epigastric pain, bloating, and nausea. The secondary category symptoms of the health condition may also affect the esophagus and the throat directly causing asthma and chronic coughing.
These signs, however, are only seen in patients with esophageal damage as there are shared nerves that control the esophagus and cough reflex which can weaken and get inflamed over the passage of time.
Such damage along with mucosal complications and esophageal acid exposure can lead to situations where the patient can have a variety of respiratory issues including extreme difficulty in breathing and pain while trying to breathe.
Without proper treatment, GERD can cause even more dangerous health conditions and situations including cancerous tumors in the esophagus, Barrett’s esophagus, the formation of ulcers in the esophagus, worsened asthma as well as tissue scarring.
In accordance with the latest studies, GERD and related complications can affect the mental health of a person along with the physical one. Patients with GERD often have disturbed mental condition which also affects the way they respond to different medication.
Lowered mental health can also pose a great threat since the medication for the complication might also become slower or not effective at all which is why mental therapy is recommended during the treatment of GERD.
What Causes GERD?
For the longest time, researchers believed that GERD is caused by the overproduction of stomach in the acid or the acid reflux. Stomach traveling up to the esophagus does cause acid reflux and signs very similar to GERD including chest pain, difficulty swallowing, burning sensation, and bloating.
Both GERD and acid reflux also have common causes including 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 GERD.
The main test used for detecting GERD in patients is 24 hour pH monitoring tests which look at the contact of the esophagus with the acid from the stomach alongside the prevalence and severity of related symptoms.
The common belief was that the frequent contact of the stomach acid with the esophagus causes considerable damage before GERD and hence paves the way for it to develop.
However, 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.
Precisely, the inflammation caused by the secretion of specific proteins such as cytokines causes inflammation in different parts of the digestive system leading to various inflammatory responses that damage 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 of GERD 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 while 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, unhealthy diet, toxicity from chemical exposure, medicines, and environment, physical and emotional stress, taking specific medication such as NSAID or birth control pills, smoking, drugs, and food allergies.
Other conditions that can cause or increase the chances of GERD include chronic stress, pregnancy, a history of a hiatal hernia, and being overweight or obese.