About 10 percent of Americans have GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is most commonly identified by chronic heartburn. It can cause a great deal of discomfort.
The stomach produces acid to help digest food, and there is a muscle that keeps this acid out of the esophagus. However, if this muscle is faulty, the acid may begin to push back into the esophagus and even the throat and mouth. This is called reflux. This push of acid into the areas it is not supposed to touch begins to produce the symptoms of heartburn, belching, sore throat, pain while swallowing, bad breath, and a sour taste in the mouth. If left untreated, GERD can even cause inflammation of the gums and erosion of tooth enamel.
No one knows exactly why GERD occurs, but there are several possibilities. Patients who smoke are likely to suffer from GERD. Also, patients who consume food that irritates their digestion, such as spicy or acidic foods, on a daily basis, also tend to experience symptoms of GERD. Being overweight is a common factor, as is the consumption of certain medications. Frequently, women begin to experience symptoms of GERD with their pregnancy.
Chest pain is also a symptom of GERD. It's usually described as a burning sensation below the ribs, and the pain tends to begin after a meal, during exercise, when lying down, or in periods of stress. If an antacid is taken, the pain usually subsides or reduces. Because chest pain signaling a heart attack can be similar to the pain caused by GERD, it's always best to get such pain checked by a doctor.
If the patient's stressful lifestyle or eating habits seem to be making the GERD symptoms worse, a special diet that concentrates on reducing the acid production of the stomach can relieve most of the symptoms. A GERD-friendly diet includes eating small meals throughout the day, avoiding foods high in fat, carbonated beverages, alcohol, citrus drinks, and even coffee in some cases. Milk can also be an irritant to the stomach and should be avoided if this is noted. Keeping a journal of daily eating habits and GERD symptoms is a good idea so that possible triggers can be identified and avoided. Sometimes, reducing GERD symptoms can be accomplished by losing excess weight as well as decreasing stress as much as possible.
Most people experience occasional heartburn, but when this heartburn becomes chronic, occurs almost every day, and begins to produce other ill effects, it's time to check with a physician.