What Is GERD? - dummies

By Patricia Raymond, Michelle Beaver

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious, chronic, or longer-lasting form of acid reflux. Although heartburn and acid reflux are extremely common, with almost everyone experiencing them at least once, GERD is less prevalent.

Approximately 15 million Americans report experiencing GERD symptoms on a daily basis. GERD can be a tremendous nuisance, affecting your quality of life and limiting your daily activates, but it’s rarely life-threatening. And in many cases, proper treatment and care can minimize or even eliminate GERD.

GERD is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a ring of muscles that separates the esophagus and the stomach. When it’s functioning properly, it opens to allow food and fluids to pass into the stomach and then closes, preventing any of the stomach contents from flowing back into the esophagus.

When it’s not functioning properly, the LES allows the stomach contents to escape back into the esophagus, which is known as acid reflux. The severity of GERD is dependent on just how dysfunctional a person’s LES is, on how much stomach acid is brought up from the stomach, and on how long that acid remains in the esophagus.

A variety of factors contribute to the development of GERD:

  • Alcohol use

  • Hiatal hernia

  • Obesity

  • Pregnancy

  • Smoking

  • Some medications

The symptoms associated with GERD are the same as for acid reflux. In most cases, the only difference is the severity and frequency of the symptoms.

There are several ways that doctors treat GERD. One way is through lifestyle changes. These include losing weight, quitting smoking, cutting out alcohol, and changing the diet. The most common dietary changes involve reducing meal size and avoiding certain trigger foods. In some cases, doctors prescribe medication to treat GERD.

In very rare circumstances, GERD treatment requires surgery. Surgery will only be considered an option after all other potential treatments have been ruled out.

You may feel like you can manage your GERD on your own, but it’s important to talk with your doctor about your symptoms. Left untreated, long-term GERD can lead to more serious health complications.

One of the most common is esophagitis (inflammation and ulceration of the esophagus), which can lead to bleeding, or food getting stuck when you’re trying to swallow. GERD can also contribute to respiratory problems, including asthma. In the most serious cases, GERD can lead to the development of Barrett’s esophagus, a condition that can turn into esophageal cancer.