November 22-28 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 weakening of 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 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.
“If you are reaching for antacids more than twice a week, it’s time to see a doctor,” said Dr. Paul Severson, 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. Severson said. Stomach acid is important for digestion, killing harmful bacteria and helping with the absorption of iron, vitamin B12 and other nutrients. Medications that eliminate acid may offer symptom control in the initial stages of the disease, but they do not stop or prevent reflux, nor do they prevent Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer, which has become epidemic in the United States over the last few decades. Additionally, those who are or may become dependent on daily medication may develop these severe complications from GERD, even if few symptoms are experienced.
Dr. Severson said typical 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 cough, chronic sore throat, laryngitis and hoarseness, sleep disruptions, dental erosions and non-cardiac chest pain.
For more information or to schedule a consultation at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center in Crosby, visit www.mnheartburn.org or call Nurse Coordinator Lea Carlson at 218-546-7462.