The main symptom of GERD is heartburn.
Heartburn is discomfort felt behind the breastbone as a burning sensation. It tends to get worse if the person lies down or bends over, and also after eating food.
However, not all people with GERD experience heartburn, and there are other possible symptoms:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Bad breath
- Respiratory problems
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing
GERD can worsen and turn into other conditions if left untreated.
- Esophagitis: This is an inflammation of the esophagus.
- Esophageal stricture: In this condition, the esophagus becomes narrow, making it difficult to swallow.
- Barrett's esophagus: The cells lining the esophagus can change into cells similar to the lining of the intestine. This can develop into cancer.
- Respiratory problems: It is possible to breathe stomach acid into the lungs, which can cause a range of problems including chest congestion, hoarseness, asthma, laryngitis, and pneumonia.
GERD will often be treated with medications before attempting other lines of treatment.
Proton pump inhibitors are one of the main pharmaceutical treatment options for people with GERD. They decrease the amount of acid produced by the stomach.
Other options include:
- H2 blockers: These are another option to help decrease acid production.
- Antacids: These counteract the acid in the stomach with alkaline chemicals. Side effects can include diarrhea and constipation. Antacids are available to purchase online.
- Prokinetics: These help the stomach empty faster. Side effects include diarrhea, nausea, and anxiety.
- Erythromycin: Ths is a type of antibiotic that also helps empty the stomach.
If lifestyle changes do not significantly improve the symptoms of GERD, or medications do not have the desired effect, a gastroenterologist may recommend surgery.
Surgical treatments include:
- Fundoplication: The surgeon sews the top of the stomach around the esophagus. This adds pressure to the lower end of the esophagus and is generally successful at reducing reflux.
- Endoscopic procedures: This is a range of procedures include endoscopic sewing, which uses stitches to tighten the sphincter muscle, and radiofrequency, which uses heat to produce small burns that help tighten the sphincter muscle.
Other lifestyle and behavior changes can help relieve GERD include:
- Eat moderate amounts of food and avoid overeating.
- Stop eating 2 to 3 hours before sleeping.
- Quit or avoid smoking.
- If a person is overweight, losing weight can help prevent symptoms.
- Do not wear clothing that is tight around the abdomen.
- Sleep at a slight angle with the head slightly elevated.