Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also referred to as reflux, is a chronic digestive disease in which acid and bile flow back from the stomach into the esophagus, creating pain and often causing
damage to the lining of the esophagus. GERD usually has a life-long negative impact on an individual’s quality of life.
What causes GERD?
GERD is caused by a weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Normally the LES acts like a one-way valve, allowing food and liquid to pass through to the stomach, but preventing stomach contents from flowing
back into the esophagus.
Figure 1: Normally, the LES resists opening to gastric pressures to prevent reflux.
Figure 2: In people with reflux, the lower esophageal sphincter is weak, allowing acid and bile to flow back from the stomach into the esophagus.
Risks of GERD
In addition to producing a wide range of symptoms, GERD can lead to potentially serious complications including:
- Esophagitis (inflammation that can damage the tissue of the esophagus)
- Stricture (narrowing of the esophagus)
- Barrett’s esophagus (pre-cancerous changes to the tissue lining the esophagus)
- Esophageal cancer
What are the symptoms of GERD?
The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. However, GERD can produce a wide variety of symptoms including those listed below.
- Dental erosion and bad breath
- Change in voice
- Sore throat
- Shortness of breath
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
- Chest pain
In some cases changing diet, losing weight, limiting smoking and alcohol consumption, and altering eating and sleeping patterns may help address symptoms of GERD.
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