Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic disorder that occurs when stomach contents flow into the esophagus and irritate the lining. While occasional heartburn or acid reflux is fairly common, one in five Americans is affected by GERD which is a more serious condition. In some cases, severe reflux can lead to changes in the esophagus called Barrett’s esophagus. This can put a small portion of the population (particularly Caucasian men over 50) at a higher risk for esophageal cancer. So it is important to know the signs.
Some Common Symptoms of GERD
- Burning sensation in the chest.
- Burning in the stomach or throat.
- Frequent nausea not necessarily accompanied by vomiting.
- Frequent coughing, which is sometimes worse at night.
- The sensation of a lump at the base of the throat, known as the globus.
When to See a Health Care Provider
Patients should come in if they’re having ongoing symptoms for an extended period of time or are experiencing symptoms several times per week despite treatment with over-the-counter medications or prescriptions. This also applies if they have unexplained weight loss or notice issues with swallowing solid foods. In addition, patients should be seen for an immediate evaluation if they are experiencing stool that is black in color.
Treatment and Lifestyle Changes
Typical treatment for ongoing reflux includes medications that are prescribed by a doctor or sold over-the-counter. Lifestyle changes are also very important, including diet modification, avoiding lying down within 3 hours of eating, losing excess weight, and quitting smoking. For some people, symptoms can often be controlled through lifestyle modifications without the need for medication which is always preferable.
Dietary Tips for Managing GERD
Ideally, patients who have been having trouble with GERD should avoid “trigger foods” which can include coffee, caffeinated products, chocolate, acidic foods such as citrus or tomato-based products. Eating more and drinking more alcohol than usual which can worsen symptoms for many people. This is something to keep in mind around Thanksgiving, which is when people typically have a meal with eight sides instead of the usual two or three. My rule of thumb- enjoy, but know your personal limitations and don’t overindulge.