GERD: The uncomfortable facts about holiday eating

GERD Awareness Week is Nov. 18-24; know the symptoms and when to see a doctor to make the holidays and every day comfortable and symptom-free.

OAK BROOK, Ill., Nov. 19, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Throughout the holiday season, many individuals will eagerly partake in the abundance that graces their tables. After indulging, however, approximately 30 million Americans will suffer the effects of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, making their celebrations less than festive. National GERD Awareness Week is November 18-24, and the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy urges individuals who suffer from GERD to seek medical diagnosis and treatment to make their holidays and every day comfortable and symptom-free.

What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when contents in the stomach flow back into the esophagus. This happens when the valve between the stomach and the esophagus, known as the lower esophageal sphincter, opens inappropriately.

What causes GERD?
GERD is caused when there is an imbalance between the normal defense mechanisms of the esophagus and offensive factors such as acid and other digestive juices and enzymes in the stomach. Often, the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus is impaired by weakening of the muscle (lower esophageal sphincter) or the presence of a hiatal hernia, where part of the stomach is displaced into the chest. Hiatal hernias, however, are common and not all people with a hiatal hernia have reflux. A major contributor to reflux is obesity; here, increased pressure in the abdomen overcomes the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus. Obesity, pregnancy, smoking, excess alcohol use and consumption of a variety of foods such as coffee, citrus drinks, tomato-based products, chocolate, peppermint and fatty foods may also contribute to reflux symptoms.

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What are the symptoms of GERD?
Common symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease are heartburn and/or acid regurgitation. Heartburn is a burning sensation felt behind the breast bone that occurs when stomach contents irritate the normal lining of the esophagus. Acid regurgitation is the sensation of stomach fluid coming up through the chest which may reach the mouth. Less common symptoms that may also be associated with gastroesophageal reflux include unexplained chest pain, wheezing, sore throat and cough, among others.

If you can answer "yes" to two or more of the following questions, you may have GERD.

1. Do you frequently have one or more of the following?

  • An uncomfortable feeling behind the breast bone that seems to be moving upward from the stomach?
  • A burning sensation in the back of your throat?
  • A bitter acid taste in your mouth?

2. Do you often experience these problems after meals?
3. Do you experience heartburn or acid indigestion two or more times per week?
4. Do you find that antacids only provide temporary relief from your symptoms?
5. Are you taking prescription medication to treat heartburn but still having symptoms?

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Can it be prevented or treated?
If you suspect you or a loved one may have GERD, the first step is to consult your healthcare provider or a gastrointestinal specialist to obtain an accurate diagnosis. A gastroenterologist is a specialist physician who diagnoses and treats diseases of the digestive tract, such as GERD. Work in partnership with your physician to initiate the best available treatment plan.

Treatment options can include lifestyle modifications, medication, surgery, or a combination of methods. Over-the-counter medications may provide only temporary symptom relief and may not prevent recurrence of symptoms or allow an injured esophagus to heal. They should not be taken regularly as a substitute for prescription medicines without consultation with a physician, as they may hide a more serious condition. If medications are needed regularly for more than two weeks, consult a physician for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

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Enjoy your holidays and every day
Seek diagnosis and treatment if symptoms occur on a regular basis. Your gastroenterologist can help you enjoy your holidays and every day by defining your discomfort and providing treatment designed for you. For more information on GERD and to find a gastroenterologist in your area who can diagnose and treat you or a loved one, visit www.asge.org.

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