Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Symptoms & Treatments
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), sometimes called acid reflux, is a common, chronic condition that people often recognize by its most distinctive symptom: heartburn. While most people experience acid reflux from time to time, the condition can worsen over time and become chronic, increasing the risk of health complications and interfering with day-to-day activities.
At SSM Health, our providers offer a full-range of treatment options for GERD to help you keep your symptoms under control and minimize your risk of complications. If you have frequent heartburn, schedule an appointment today to learn how we can help you feel better.
What is GERD?
Your stomach produces powerful acids to help digest the food you eat. Acid reflux occurs when the contents of the stomach rise up into the esophagus, irritating its delicate lining and causing symptoms like heartburn. Normally, a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) controls the passage of food into the stomach, opening when you swallow and closing tight to keep the contents of the stomach in the stomach. GERD results when the LES stops working effectively, resulting in chronic acid reflux. In addition to the uncomfortable symptoms it causes, GERD can damage the lining of the esophagus, leading to complications like Barrett’s esophagus, a precancerous condition.
Symptoms of GERD
While heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD, you may also experience:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- A feeling like there’s a lump in your throat
- Sore throat/hoarseness
- Chronic cough
How is GERD Diagnosed?
If you have the typical symptoms of acid reflux, you may not need any additional testing. But if your symptoms are severe or persist despite taking medications, your doctor may recommend a series of diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your discomfort, including:
Diagnostic Upper Endoscopy: During this exam, your doctor will perform a visual examination of the lining of your esophagus and stomach. Your doctor may also perform biopsies to look for signs of Barrett’s esophagus.
24-Hour Esophageal pH Test: This test tracks the pH levels in your esophagus over a 24-hour period to evaluate the severity of your acid reflux.
Esophageal Manometry/Impedance Testing: During this procedure, pressure sensors are placed in your esophagus to measure the contractions that move food into the stomach when you swallow. This test can help determine if a swallowing problem is the cause of your symptoms.
GERD Treatment Options
At SSM Health, our providers offer a full range of treatment options to help you keep your GERD symptoms under control.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Your doctor may recommend minor modifications to your diet and lifestyle to help control your symptoms, such as avoiding the foods that trigger your symptoms and not eating late at night. Quitting smoking and losing weight, if necessary, can also help minimize symptoms.
The goal of medication is to control your acid reflux symptoms. A range of medications are available, and depending on the frequency and severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend:
- Antacids to neutralize stomach acid when symptoms occur
- H2 blockers to reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) to block the stomach’s acid-producing cells
If you continue to struggle with your symptoms or if you don’t want to take long-term medications, your doctor may recommend surgery to stop your reflux. Our surgeons are experienced in a variety of surgical options, including:
During this minimally invasive procedure, your doctor will wrap the top part of the stomach tightly around the lower esophagus to serve the function of the lower esophageal sphincter.
LINX® Reflux Management System
During the minimally-invasive, laparoscopic LINX Reflux Management procedure, a ring of magnetic, titanium beads is placed around the lower esophageal sphincter. The ring of beads mimics the LES, staying closed tight to prevent reflux, but opening to allow food and liquids to pass into the stomach when you eat.
If you frequently experience heartburn, acid reflux and other digestive symptoms, schedule an appointment with an SSM Health gastroenterologist today to talk about your options. With an experienced team of providers offering the latest procedures, you can trust our team to help you feel better and take control of your health.