Acid reflux is a very common condition that’s caused when stomach acid (and occasionally bile) flows back into the esophagus, causing irritation and inflammation. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more severe and chronic form of acid reflux that is uncomfortable, can be very painful, and sometimes over-the-counter medicine isn’t enough to stop it.
GERD may lead to complications such as scarring and an increased risk of cancer, so getting a proper diagnosis is important. Talk to your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:
- Heartburn several times a week.
- Heartburn that returns soon after your antacid wears off.
- Heartburn that wakes you up at night.
- Symptoms that continue even though you’re taking prescription medications.
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing.
- Sour taste in your mouth.
- Burning in your chest.
- Sore throat.
- Chronic cough.
- Dental/enamel problems.
Symptoms you should absolutely not ignore include vomiting blood, black stool, unexplained weight loss, diminished appetite, or a family history of esophageal or stomach cancer.
Some people are at a higher risk of developing GERD including those who are obese, drink alcohol excessively, have an unhealthy diet, are elderly or use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) chronically.
“Relieving symptoms and preventing complications is the mainstay goal of treating GERD,” says gastroenterologist Venkatachala Mohan, MD.
Dr. Mohan encourages those who suffer from GERD to eat a healthy, low-fat diet that consists of smaller meals; weight loss efforts; avoid excess alcohol; and be sure not to eat within 2.5 hours of going to bed.
In addition to lifestyle changes, taking antacids (e.g., Tums), H2 blockers (e.g., Pepcid or Zantac) or proton pump inhibitors (e.g., Prilosec or Nexium) help manage symptoms and heal inflammation of the esophagus caused by the reflux. These measures help prevent the development of a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus.
If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms, make an appointment with your healthcare provider today.
Venkatachala Mohan, MD is a board-certified gastroenterologist who practices at Washington Gastroenterology.