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GERD: Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment

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Are you constantly finding yourself miserable from heartburn and indigestion? You may suffer from a common disease called GERD.

What is GERD?

In simplified terms, gastroesophageal reflux disease-- GERD-- can be described as heartburn that occurs at least two times each week. It's caused by the contents of the stomach going back up, into the esophagus. The stomach is a very acidic place, and when stomach acid goes into the esophagus frequently enough, it can cause lasting damage.

GERD is commonly caused by a hiatal hernia. Hiatal hernias happen when the stomach starts to squeeze through the diaphragm, which is connected to the esophagus. The squeezing of the stomach makes it more likely for its contents to then travel back into the esophagus. Although GERD isn't always the result of a hiatal hernia, having one does increase the risk of developing GERD.

What are the symptoms?

Frequent heartburn is the most characteristic symptom of GERD. In addition to heartburn, someone with GERD may also experience coughing, hoarseness, nausea after eating, and frequent sore throats. Some also notice stomach pain, burping, and regurgitation after eating.

How is GERD diagnosed?

In most instances, GERD is diagnosed through a physical examination and an assessment of symptoms. However, there are some tests that a doctor may use to confirm the diagnosis. X-rays can help check for damage to the esophagus. An endoscopy, where a small tube with a camera attached is threaded down the throat and into the esophagus, can also help detect GERD.

If GERD is caused by a hiatal hernia, the hernia can be detected through an X-ray or an endoscopy.

How is it treated?

Many times, GERD is treated with antacids, either prescription or over the counter. A newer type of medication, called proton pump inhibitors, is also useful for relieving symptoms of GERD and helping to heal damage done to the esophagus. Sometimes, medication that helps reduce the production of acid in the stomach may also be used. In addition to medication, dietary changes may help cut down on symptoms. Caffeine, chocolate, spicy foods, and foods that are high in fat can all exacerbate GERD, and cutting them out may be a good alternative for medication in some instances.

For those with a hiatal hernia, surgery may be necessary to push the stomach back to its proper place.

If you experience heartburn more than twice per week, talk to your doctor about GERD. For more information, contact Tampa Bay Reflux Center or a similar location.