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November 19th-25th is International GERD Awareness Week

GERD stands for Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease, one of the most prevalent of all gastrointestinal disorders. According to Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine (16th Edition), multi-national population-based studies have shown that up to 15% of the world's population may suffer from the symptoms of GERD on at least a weekly basis; approximately half of this large group experience daily symptoms.

The symptoms of GERD are caused by the backflow of gastric acid and other gastric contents past the inferior esophageal sphincter and into the esophagus. It is this abnormal reflux mechanism which causes the most prominent symptoms of GERD: frequent heartburn and a sour or metallic taste in the mouth. A person suffering from GERD may experience one or both of these symptoms at different intervals throughout the course of the disorder.

Sometimes, neither frequent heartburn nor sour taste is experienced by an individual with GERD. Such cases come to clinical attention through the evaluation of other signs and symptoms related to acid reflux such as: chronic cough, airway constriction, sore throat, or laryngitis.

Importantly, the ill effects of GERD are not limited to discomfort. Over time, chronic acid reflux can cause a change in the cells that make up the esophageal lining. This condition, known as Barrett's Esophagus, puts one at increased risk for the development of esophageal cancer.

Current treatment for GERD usually consists of medication therapy, with agents that block or decrease the production of stomach acid. Your primary care professional or gastroenterologist might also recommend antibiotic therapy to eradicate Helicobacter pylori. H. pylori is a bacterium which commonly resides in our stomach; it frequently causes the stomach to produce excess acid.

The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders is sponsoring the International GERD Awareness Week, from November 19th through November 25th.

If you or a loved one suffers from frequent heartburn, or if any of the above symptoms are experienced on a recurrent basis, it is important to contact a health care professional right away.

GERD Logo Courtesy of the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
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