The week of November 20-26 is national Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) Awareness Week. It comes just in time for Thanksgiving when many Americans may experience heartburn associated with overeating. However, if heartburn occurs more frequently, or is associated with additional symptoms, it may be GERD.
An estimated one in every five American adults suffers from GERD. It is a chronic condition caused by changes in the gastroesophageal valve that allows contents to flow from the stomach back into the esophagus. Left untreated, GERD can be a lifelong disease. It can lead to bothersome symptoms, which can vary from mild to moderate to severe depending on the individual. In addition, longstanding GERD can lead to serious ulcerations and narrowing, and eventually to precancerous change known as Barrett’s Esophagus and finally cancer of the esophagus.
Typical GERD symptoms include a burning sensation in the chest (heartburn), regurgitation of food or sour liquid (acid reflux) and difficulty swallowing (dysphagia). There are also atypical symptoms of the sensation of a lump in the throat, shortness of breath/asthma, chronic dry cough, chronic sore throat, laryngitis and hoarseness, sleep disruptions, dental erosions, and non-cardiac chest pain.
“If you are reaching for antacids more than twice a week, it’s time to see a doctor,” said Dr. Andrew Loveitt, Director of the Minnesota Reflux & Heartburn Center. “If your current medications aren’t working well enough, there are alternative outpatient endoscopic and minimally invasive therapies that could be right for you. There are more treatment options available than ever and a GERD expert at our center will help you select the best choice suited to your needs.”
GERD is not an acid problem – instead, it is caused by an anatomical issue, Dr. Loveitt said. The acid our stomach produces is important for digestion, killing harmful bacteria and helping with the absorption of electrolytes and other nutrients from the foods we consume. GERD occurs when the valve between the stomach and the esophagus is not working properly and fails to keep contents in the stomach from washing back up into the esophagus. Medications may offer mild to intermittent symptom control, but they do not stop or prevent reflux, nor do they prevent Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer. Additionally, those who are or may become dependent on daily medication may develop severe complications from GERD, even if no symptoms are experienced. When left untreated, GERD can lead to other health complications including damage to the throat or esophagus, inflammation or narrowing of the esophagus, respiratory complications, Barrett’s Esophagus, and esophageal cancer.
For more information or to schedule a consultation at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby, visit www.cuyunamed.org/patient-care/specialty-care/heartburn-reflux or call Nurse Coordinator Lea Carlson at 218-546-7462.