Over 30 million Americans suffer from acid reflux every month. And, according to a national study that followed over 30,000 people for 11 years, symptoms of reflux and heartburn has nearly doubled in the last decade.
The Heartburn and Acid Reflux Center at Scott & White Hospital – Round Rock has joined forces with communities across the U.S. to improve public awareness regarding diagnosis and treatment, as well as the health risks associated with Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
While most of us are preparing for the holidays this time of year, health professionals across the nation are using the week of November 24-30 surrounding Thanksgiving to promote GERD awareness. It’s no surprise that a holiday centered around an abundance of food correlates with a campaign intended to raise awareness about this chronic digestive condition.
According to F. Paul Buckley III, MD, General Surgeon at Scott & White Hospital – Round Rock “Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly shortened to GERD, occurs when stomach contents, including acid or bile, washes back into the esophagus. Over time this acid erodes the lining of the esophagus, resulting in discomfort, or in some cases, serious complications.” During GERD Awareness Week, patients are encouraged to learn the symptoms and causes of GERD, understand the associated health risks, and what treatment options are available.
During GERD Awareness Week, patients are encouraged to learn the symptoms and causes of GERD, understand the associated health risks, and what treatment options are available.
What are the Causes and Symptoms of GERD?
GERD can affect people at any age, however, the risk for developing GERD increases after the age of 40. GERD is caused by a weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that does not adequately prevent stomach acid from escaping the stomach and flowing back into the esophagus. Additionally, GERD can be related to a hiatal hernia, which can allow stomach acid or undigested food to wash back into the esophagus after a meal.
GERD should only be diagnosed by a physician and may require further testing to be confirmed, however, the following symptoms may be indicators to visit your physician:
- You experience heartburn twice or more each week
- Your heartburn affects your sleeping
- Your heartburn persists or becomes more severe
- You’ve had heartburn regularly for several years4
- Daily activities are affected by discomfort from reflux
- You experience difficulty swallowing
- You notice shortness of breath, wheezing and chest pain
- You experience a chronic, non-productive dry cough
Health Risks Associated with GERD
Beyond discomfort in daily activities such as exercising, eating, and sleeping, GERD can cause additional complications. Over time, stomach acid can cause esophagitis, a painful inflammation of the esophagus. Left untreated, esophagitis can result in esophageal bleeding, scarring, or ulcers. An additional condition
called Barrett’s esophagus6 affects about 1% of GERD patients. Barrett’s esophagus occurs when cells in the lower esophagus become damaged and change in color and composition. This increases the risk of developing
esophageal cancer. Since 1970, the diagnosis of esophageal cancer has increased by 600%, and is the seventh leading cause of cancer death for men. Patients with Barrett’s esophagus are encouraged to be screened regularly for cancer since many symptoms aren’t manifested until the cancer is advanced.
GERD Treatment Options
Adequately treating GERD requires a long-term commitment to improving lifestyle choices and may require physician recommended treatments to control or reduce painful symptoms. Additionally, a new FDA approved device called LINX® is now available for the treatment of GERD. The device, which resembles a small bracelet, is composed of tiny magnetic titanium beads. During a minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, the implant is placed at the base of the esophagus, just above the stomach, and acts as a support for a weak LES to prevent stomach acid from washing into the esophagus. In a 3-year study8, 92% of patients reported significant symptom improvement and 94% of patients felt satisfied with their overall condition following surgery.
To learn about GERD treatment options, contact The Heartburn and Acid Reflux Center at Scott & White Hospital – Round Rock) at 512-509-GERD, or by visiting heartburn.sw.org