Do you often suffer from heartburn or indigestion? Are there certain foods or drinks you know will upset your stomach?
If this sounds like you, you may have GERD. Also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, it’s a common condition that affects 1 in 5 Americans.
What exactly is GERD? How is it diagnosed and treated?
In this post, we’ll explain everything you need to know, from diagnosing GERD to the best treatment plan.
Symptoms of GERD
GERD is a disorder of the digestive tract. It affects the ring of muscle between the stomach and esophagus (the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES).
What does this mean in plain English? GERD manifests in the following ways:
- Acid reflux
- Pain behind breastbone
- Acidic or bitter taste in the mouth
- A dry cough
- Bad breath
You may notice that certain foods or beverages trigger your symptoms or make them worse. Common triggers include coffee, tea, alcohol, chocolate, peppermint, and foods that are spicy or fried.
So, you’re dealing with some or all of these symptoms. What’s the next step?
When you visit your doctor, expect to discuss your symptoms and any over-the-counter medication you’re taking. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may order one or more of the following tests:
Ambulatory Acid Probe Test
This test will measure how much acid your stomach produces over 24 hours. Your doctor will insert a small device into your esophagus (via a catheter through your nose). After sending results, you’ll pass it through your stool in the next few days.
This test isn’t quite as involved as the previous one. It involves your doctor placing a small camera into your esophagus and stomach to look for irritation or damage. This is also done via a catheter through your nose.
This is similar to the procedures listed above, but its purpose is different. This test measures how your esophagus moves and how it moves the acid from your stomach.
What if your doctor wants to investigate your entire digestive tract? You’ll drink a thick chalky liquid called barium, which coats the lining of your digestive system. Your doctor will then take a series of X-rays to examine your throat, stomach, and gut in more detail.
Treatment for GERD
Most people get relief from GERD from a combination of medication and lifestyle changes.
It’s important to avoid trigger foods or eating too close to bedtime. Eating smaller portions and learning to eat more slowly will help to reduce your symptoms.
What’s the best medicine for acid reflux? Your doctor may prescribe any one of the following medications:
There are a few over-the-counter antacids you can take too, like Tums, Rolaids, or Alka-Seltzer. These won’t heal the damage caused by GERD, but they can make you more comfortable in the meantime.
GERD is rarely serious, but its symptoms can make your everyday life miserable.
It doesn’t have to be that way. By properly diagnosing GERD and following a suitable treatment plan, you can find relief from your symptoms.
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