GERD: Symptoms, Medications & Home Treatments 

Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease, or commonly known as GORD or GERD, is a digestive disorder that can turn the simplest acts such as eating or drinking into a difficult one for you. GERD itself essentially happens when stomach acid backs up into the oesophagus, the tube connecting your mouth to your stomach, it can cause a burning sensation in your chest, a sour taste in your mouth, and an array of other unpleasant symptoms in between.

When it comes to the prevalence of GERD, the exact number within the population is relatively uncertain. However, one publication provides estimates that vary greatly across different regions of the world: from 2.5 to 7.8 percent in East Asia, 8.7 to 33.1 percent in the Middle East, 8.8 to 25.9 percent in Europe, 18.1 to 27.8 percent in North America, and around 23.0 percent in South America. In Australia, specifically, the prevalence of GERD is within the estimates of around 11.6 percent of the population. 

This blog post will explain GERD in detail, from understanding its root causes and apparent symptoms to exploring treatment options and lifestyle modifications that can help you tame the fire caused by GERD.

Understanding Reflux

The oesophagus is designed to be a one-way street for food travelling down to your stomach. There is a muscular valve at the bottom of the oesophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which acts as a security guard, ensuring stomach acid stays where it belongs. In people with GERD, this valve weakens or relaxes at the wrong time, allowing stomach acid to creep back up, causing irritation and discomfort.

Causes of GERD

While the exact cause of GERD remains under investigation, several factors can contribute to a weakened LES and increased acid production:

  • Hiatal Hernia
    Hiatal Hernia is considered as one of the leading causes of GERD. A study has suggested the correlation between the two, in which the stomach pushes through the diaphragm, the muscle separating your chest from your abdomen, putting pressure on the LES.
  • Diet
    One research suggests that certain dietary behaviours, such as the large consumption of spicy or fatty meals, chocolate, peppermint, and acidic beverages such as coffee or citrus juices, can relax the LES and trigger heartburn, which become the catalysts of GERD. The study suggests that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while limiting processed foods, fatty foods, and coffee, can be beneficial in managing GERD.
  • Obesity
    GERD could also be caused by obesity, which is typically defined as patients who have a higher than normal number of body mass index (BMI) units. There is one analysis that may suggested that there might a correlation between large BMI and GERD, which in this case, the symptoms occur when excess weight can put pressure on the abdomen, pushing stomach contents upwards
  • Pregnancy
    Pregnancy can also be one of the causes of GERD, when some factors during pregnancy can be the main catalysts, such as an increased hormone levels that may affect muscles in the digestive system, thus increasing the probability of acid reflux, or a growing baby which may worsen the GERD symptoms by placing pressure from the baby on the patient’s stomach. One study suggested that GERD is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders among pregnant women, with its prevalence ranging between 40 to 80 percent.
  • Medications
    There is one research that suggests that some medications such as aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can become risk factors that may worsen GERD symptoms.
  • Smoking and Alcohol
    These consumption habits are generally known to be a bad influence towards the body, which in the case of GERD, can also weaken the LES and irritate the oesophagus. Multiple studies have proven that there is indeed a clear link between smoking and alcohol consumption towards exacerbating the symptoms of GERD.
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Symptoms of GERD

GERD is manifested with several notable symptoms that affected multiple areas in the oesophagus and the stomach, which as follows:

Most common symptoms of GERD
Most common symptoms of GERD
  • Heartburn
    One of the most common symptoms of GERD is heartburn, according to one study. Heartburn can be defined as a burning sensation in the chest area, radiating toward the mouth, as a result of acid reflux into the oesophagus.
  • Acid reflux
    The same study also mentioned acid reflux, which can be described as a sour or acidic taste in your mouth, with or without regurgitation through the oesophagus area, which comes alongside heartburn as the main catalysts of GERD.
  • Regurgitation
    Patients may also experience regurgitation, which is the feeling of stomach contents coming back up into your throat or mouth, heartburn without the burning sensation.
  • Chest pain
    This symptom is also often called noncardiac chest pain (NCCP), which can mimic angina, or chest pain due to heart issues. NCCP itself has been reported to be the most common associative cause linked with GERD. One research mentions that several studies have demonstrated that the prevalence of GERD ranges from 21 to 60 percent of patients with NCCP, suggesting that there are indeed correlations between the two.
  • Difficulty swallowing
    Also known as dysphagia, this symptom can be described with a sign of esophageal stricture (narrowing) caused by chronic acid exposure. Dysphagia itself is independently associated with GERD, according to one study, and with approximately 30 percent of GERD patients who have frequent dysphagia, and 18 percent of patients who have infrequent dysphagia, the symptom is prevalent, as well.
  • Chronic cough
    GERD can also cause chronic cough by stimulating an oesophageal-bronchial  reflex enough to cause a cough, as a result. One journal revealed that GERD is one of the most common causes of chronic cough in adults in the world, with its prevalence in these studies ranging between 5 to 41 percent.

Is GERD Deadly?

GERD significantly impacts morbidity, especially in older adults and obese individuals. For instance, studies indicate a higher morbidity rate in elderly patients and those undergoing procedures like laparoscopic sleeve gastrectomy, which can exacerbate GERD despite weight loss.

Furthermore, the morbidity associated with GERD is evident in special populations, such as morbidly obese patients and preterm infants. In these groups, GERD leads to increased healthcare costs and extended hospital stays. The disease’s global burden is rising, emphasising the need for effective management strategies to mitigate its impact on health and quality of life.  

Can GERD Be Cured Permanently? 

Curing gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD) permanently remains a challenge as most treatments focus on symptom management rather than a complete cure. The primary treatments involve lifestyle modifications, medications, and surgical interventions.

Fortunately, there are a few medications that decrease the severity of the symptoms caused by GERD, which as follows:

  • Antacids
    Antacid medications such as Tums, Rolaids, Maalox, and Mylanta, are the first-line medication and also one of the most available medications for treating GERD, as these medications are self-prescribed. Antacids come into function to neutralise the acid inside the stomach, providing temporary relief from some of the GERD symptoms such as heartburn.

    A study has proven that antacids do help relieve mild symptoms of GERD associated with heartburn, despite side effects such as constipation, diarrhoea, or gas if used excessively.
  • Histamine-2 (H2) Blockers
    This is also another available medication for GERD, in which some FDA-approved H2 blockers such as Pepcid AC and Tagamet HB reduce GERD symptoms by reducing the production of stomach acid, resulting in a longer-lasting relief, in comparison to antacids. One study proves the efficacy of this medication, despite multiple side effects such as headache, diarrhoea, or constipation in some individuals.
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)
    PPIs such as prilosec, nexium, prevacid, and protonix, as are the most potent acid-suppressing medications for GERD when compared to antacids and H2 blockers, in which they function by blocking the enzyme in the stomach that produces acid. A study proves the efficacy of PPIs might fully treat most of the common symptoms caused by GERD over a 4-week period.

PPIs are usually well-tolerated by patients. However, there are multiple potential side effects, including headache, nausea, diarrhoea, and stomach cramps. While the long-term use of PPI might also be linked to an increased risk of bone fractures, vitamin B12 deficiency, and stomach infections like Clostridioides difficile.

Lifestyle Change As A Treatment for GERD

While medications play a crucial role in managing GERD, treatment often extends beyond pills and liquids. A significant change in lifestyle can be highly effective in reducing symptoms of GERD and promoting long-term relief.

This might include changes in dietary habits such as avoiding trigger foods, from spicy or fatty meals, chocolates or other sugary treats, and more. Avoiding those dietary options, combined with eating in smaller portions yet more frequent everyday can also help in developing a healthy BMI and managing your body weight for the long term.

Additionally, elevating the head of your bed while sleeping, limiting or even stopping consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, and managing stress through techniques like yoga or meditation can all significantly contribute to a GERD-friendly lifestyle.

Conclusion

GERD, though a firestorm of multiple symptoms affecting your organ systems, doesn’t have to control your life. By understanding the common culprits behind reflux, from a weakened valve to dietary choices, you can take charge.

A multi-faceted approach, from the medication for acid reduction through a recommendation from a medical expert, to your lifestyle modifications like dietary adjustments and stress management, can significantly improve your quality of life.

Remember, consulting with a medical expert is essential in developing a personalised treatment plan for you that effectively tames the flames of GERD and ushers in a new era of digestive comfort for a long-lasting life.

Written by

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

Written by

Priyom holds a Ph.D. in Plant Biology and Biotechnology from the University of Madras, India. She is an active researcher and an experienced science writer. Priyom has also co-authored several original research articles that have been published in reputed peer-reviewed journals. She is also an avid reader and an amateur photographer.

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