Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common health problem that affects many people. You may or may not experience symptoms. Some symptoms of GERD include heartburn, a burning sensation in your chest, sour taste in your mouth, chronic cough, or frequent burping. Often symptoms are worse when you lie down or shortly after a meal, especially if you overeat. GERD occurs when the muscle that blocks the opening of the esophagus into the stomach is weakened. This weakened muscle allows stomach acids and digestive juices to travel back up your esophagus. Acid can cause irritations of your esophagus and the discomfort you experience with GERD.
Some changes that you can make to reduce the symptoms of GERD are losing weight, eating smaller meals, eliminating tobacco and alcohol, avoiding caffeine and peppermint, and any other food that worsens your symptoms. You should also raise the head of your bed by 6-8″ to prevent reflux at night while you are sleeping. Your physician may also prescribe medications to help control the acid production in your stomach.
Longstanding, uncontrolled reflux can cause other problems including ulcers in the esophagus, difficulty swallowing, and a precancerous condition called Barrett’s esophagus (see Barrett’s). Anyone with persistent reflux symptoms uncontrolled with medication or lifestyle changes should consider being seen by a gastroenterologist. An upper endoscopy can be performed to determine how much irritation there is and to rule out Barrett’s esophagus (see EGD). Rarely, surgery is needed to help strengthen the muscle in the lower esophagus to prevent reflux.