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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Commonly known as acid reflux, gastric-oesophageal reflux disease is the most common cause of indigestion. Our stomach contains various acids that aid in the process of digestion. The inner lining of the stomach has several mechanisms to protect itself from the effects of these acids or gastric juices, but the lining of the oesophagus is not protected enough to tolerate them, and oesophagus may get inflamed if this acid enters it. The oesophageal sphincter, which lies at the junction of oesophagus and stomach, stops the gastric juices from entering the oesophagus. But when the oesophageal sphincter becomes weak, the gastric juices may seep upwards into the oesophagus, resulting in acid reflux. The burning sensation that is caused due to the inflammation of oesophagus is called as heartburn. If the acid reflux happens occasionally it does not harm so much, however, persistent acid reflux can cause severe and long term problems, in fact the oesophageal lining may even become permanently scarred and damaged.

Symptoms

  • Pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen
  • Belching
  • Persistent coughing
  • You may feel the reflux and a burning sensation in the oesophagus
  • Acidic taste in the mouth as the stomach acids regurgitate into the throat and mouth
  • In extreme cases and persistent acid reflux there can also be bleeding in the digestive tract, resulting in blood in the faeces or vomit.
  • Persistent acid reflux also causes narrowing of the oesophagus, and this may be identified by symptoms like difficulty in swallowing and weight loss.

Causes
GERD is caused due to malfunctioning or rupture of the oesophageal sphincter. A person is more likely to suffer from acid reflux due to various factors such as:

  • Eating very spicy food on a regular basis
  • Exercising immediately after meals
  • Consumption of alcohol, drinks containing caffeine, and colas
  • Excessive smoking
  • Obesity

Diagnosis
GERD is generally diagnosed by the various symptoms it demonstrates. Following certain self help tips can provide relief, however, if the symptoms persist a contrast X-ray and endoscopy can be conducted for a detailed examination of the oesophagus. This can help to decide on the required medication. During endoscopy a small tissue can also be removed from the oesophagus for further tests and analysis.

Self help and treatment
The following self help tips can help to relieve the symptoms of acid reflux:

  • Cut down on or, if possible, quit smoking
  • Cut down on alcohol, beverages containing caffeine, and colas
  • Eat your dinner at least 2 to 3 hours before you go to sleep
  • Avoid oily and spicy food
  • Do not exercise immediately after a meal
  • Eat smaller portions at regular intervals during the day
  • In case of a heart burn and pain or discomfort, an antacid can provide temporary relief

In case of persistent symptoms, medicines that reduce the production of the stomach acids may be prescribed. Drugs such as metoclopramide may also be given in order to increase the rate at which the stomach is emptied. If all the self-help and medication fails to improve the condition, an operation may be advised in order to tighten the oesophageal spinster valve and bring back the body to its original state.

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