GERD: ACG 2007 Meeting NEWS
The American College of Gastroenterology held its annual meeting in Philadelphia October 12-17, 2007. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is more than just heartburn - a common symptom experienced by millions of people everyday. GERD is a physical condition that allows acid from the stomach to back up into the esophagus - and symptoms of heartburn can last for several hours. If heartburn is experienced more than 2-3 times a week or if if there is blood or weight loss associated with heartburn, consult your doctor to see if you have GERD.
The problem with GERD is that continued exposure of acid, digestive enzymes and stomach juices can actually injure the lining of the esophagus. This is due to the lower esophageal sphincter relaxing too frequently, allowing gastric juices to flow backwards into the esophagus. The primary buffer against this is saliva so stop smoking if you smoke. Tobacco inhibits saliva, stimulates stomach acid production and relaxes the LES. Losing weight and not eating 2-3 hours before bedtime can help as well as avoiding foods which are known triggers of heartburn - chocolate, caffeine, fatty greasy food, tomato products, alcoholic beverages, and peppermint.
Many medications are available over-the-counter to manage GERD. The goal of treatment is to eliminate complications like esophagitis - or even more severe problems like esophageal cancer. GERD is also one of the most common causes of chronic cough. Men tend to have increased incidence of upright acid reflux, which occurs when a person is awake. Women tend to have increased incidence of supine acid reflux, which occurs when a person is sleeping.
One of the findings presented at the October ACG meeting is that nighttime acid reflux is associated with significant sleep impairment. Almost 50% of people with GERD report sleep impairment, snoring, sore throat, cough, wheezing or choking. To promote better sleep - follow the recommendations for preventing GERD and try sleeping with a wedge pillow to keep the head elevated.
If you experience pain with swallowing, or difficulty swallowing, have black stools or vomit blood - see a doctor as these a warning signs of more serious disease or complications.
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