GERD (Acid Reflux) Causes, Symptoms and Prevention

GERD (also known as gastro esophageal reflux disease or Acid Reflux) is the most common upper gastrointestinal disorder in men. GERD is a condition that develops when acid or contents from the stomach come back up into the esophagus (food pipe) to case troublesome symptoms or complications.

Acid reflux is common and 10-20 per cent of all people have symptoms of this at least once weekly. When you eat, food passes from the throat to the stomach through the esophagus. A ring of muscle fibers in the lower esophagus prevents swallowed food from moving back up.

When this sphincter does not close all the way, the stomach contents and acid can leak back into the esophagus and irritate the lining of the esophagus causing GERD.

It is misconception that GERD occurs because of increased acid production in your stomach, since generally, most people have the same amount of acid in their stomach.

Instead, GERD is triggered by other factors that cause the stomach acid to overwhelm the valve that normally protects the esophagus.

Causes of GERD:

Common precipitating causes of GERD, especially in men include: 

  • Smoking
  • Tobacco Chewing
  • Sedentary Lifestyle
  • Obesity
  • Tight Fitting Clothes
  • Ingestion

Medicines, more frequently taken by men for illnesses such as hypertension, heart disease and lung disease may also cause or increase acid reflux. Pain killers for conditions like arthritis or spondylosis may also directly damage the lining of the esophagus and cause symptoms of GERD.

Acid reflux may at times be related with hiatus hernia, a condition where a part of the stomach, through the diaphragm gets pushed up into the chest cavity. People with severe GERD mostly have a hiatus hernia.

Obesity and no physical activity contribute to this condition. Heartburn is one of the main symptoms of GERD and it is a burning pain that starts behind the breastbone and may travel to the back of the throat. The pain can last for at least two hours and is often worsened by lying down, eating or bending over.

Symptoms of GERD:

Symptoms of GERD include vomiting (swallowed liquid or food going back up into mouth or throat), belching, a bitter or sour taste in the back of the mouth or throat, excessive saliva, and upset stomach.

People who inhale the reflux acid may experience change in voice, coughing, wheezing or hoarseness. Gastric acid in GERD can damage the lining of the esophagus, which can cause pain and inflammation, which if severe can sometimes mimic the pain of a heart attack (angina).

More severe problems associated with GERD include severe esophagitis, esophageal ulcers and esophageal strictures (narrowing of the esophageal diameter due to scarring). An important and increasingly common esophageal complication of GERD is Barrett’s esophagus.

In this condition, due to long standing GERD, abnormal columnar lining cells replace normal squamous type lining cells of the lower esophagus. This may lead to a premalignant condition (dysplasia) which if untreated can eventually lead to development of cancer of the esophagus, especially in men.

GERD Causes and Cure

Complication of GERD:
(Can also occur outside the esophagus)

  • A typical chest pain
  • Ear, nose, and throat (ENT) manifestations
  • Lung problems like asthma, chronic cough, chronic bronchitis
  • Repeated pneumonia
  • Sleep apnea

Occasional heartburn is common and does not require you to seek a consultation with your specialist. However, if GERD symptoms start occurring too frequently or cause repeated distressing symptoms, you should see your doctor.

‘Red flag’ symptoms such as difficulty in swallowing, painful swallowing, unexplained weight loss or bleeding should never be ignored or taken lightly and should prompt you to seek immediate medical attention for further investigations.

The lifestyle change includes the following:

  • Eat smaller meals more frequently instead of two or three large meals.
  • Eat meals earlier especially dinner.
  • Avoid lying down within two or three hours after meals.
  • Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake.
  • Lose excess weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Wear loose comfortable clothing.

Prevention for GERD:

A simple solution to prevent or treat GERD is to make a note of and avoid foods that contribute to reflux. Some people with night time reflux may be helped by raising the head end of the bed while sleeping to reduce symptoms.

Using over-the-counter antacids after meals and at bedtime for occasional symptoms may give temporary relief but may not last very long. And keep in mind; diarrhea or constipation is a common side effect of repeated use of antacids.

In conclusion, GERD and its symptoms are normally a reflection of a person’s lifestyle and a positive approach will work a long way in preventing and managing GERD.

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