Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious form of gastroesophageal reflux (GER), which is common. Chronic GERD that is untreated can cause serious complications. Inflammation of the esophagus from refluxed stomach acid can damage the lining and cause bleeding or ulcers-also called esophagitis. Scars from tissue damage can lead to strictures-narrowing of the esophagus-that make swallowing difficult. A very serious consequence can be Barrett’s esophagus, in which cells in the esophageal lining take on an abnormal shape and color. Over time, the cells can lead to esophageal cancer, which is often fatal. Persons with GERD and its complications should be monitored closely by a physician or healthcare practitioner.
Studies have shown that GERD may worsen or contribute to asthma, chronic cough, and pulmonary fibrosis.
Six Points to Remember with GERD:
1) Frequent heartburn, also called acid indigestion, is the most common symptom of GERD in adults. Anyone experiencing heartburn twice a week or more may have GERD.
2) It may surprise you but you can have GERD without having heartburn. Your symptoms could include a dry cough, asthma symptoms, or trouble swallowing.
3) If you have been using antacids for more than 2 weeks, it is time to see your health care provider. Most doctors can treat GERD. Your health care provider may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a specialist who treats diseases of the stomach and intestines.
4) Health care providers usually recommend lifestyle and dietary changes to relieve symptoms of GERD. Many people with GERD also need medication. Surgery, known as fundoplication, may be considered as a treatment option. However, fundoplication may have serious complications in some patients.
5) Most infants with GER are healthy even though they may frequently spit up or vomit. Most infants outgrow GER by their first birthday. Reflux that continues past 1 year of age may be GERD.
6) The persistence of GER along with other symptoms-arching and irritability in infants, or abdominal and chest pain in older children-is GERD. GERD is the outcome of frequent and persistent GER in infants and children and may cause repeated vomiting, coughing, and respiratory problems.
Some patients may benefit from a combination of conventional and natural health treatment for GERD.