GERD, most commonly known as acid reflux, is one of the most severe and painful conditions that a person can be subjected to. Characterized by chronic episodes of heartburn, chest aches, sourness of the mouth and a marked difficulty in swallowing foodstuffs or liquid, it can plague different people to varying degrees and turn dangerous if left untreated.
What Causes GERD?
The full form of GERD is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. It most commonly originates when the lower esophageal sphincter (a disc-like muscle which is present at the junction between the esophagus and the stomach) relaxes to an abnormal degree. When food slips down the gullet, this disc relaxes to allow the food to pass through. But sometimes, this sphincter weakens considerably beyond its normal limits, making way for acid to flow back up the esophagus and into the food pipe. This is what is referred to as the ‘acid reflux’. This condition is caused by several factors such as eating certain foods which might be overly acidic in nature, eating large meals before dinner (or frequently eating very late at night), excessive consumption of alcoholic or caffeinated beverages or taking medications such as antibiotics (e.g. tetracycline), aspirin, iron supplements etc.
People with asthma are very likely to develop GERD, since asthmatic fits often result in the weakening of the sphincter. To make matters worse, some of the medications which are prescribed for asthma can positively cause the GERD symptoms to worsen. Also, just like asthma can give rise to GERD, GERD can also produce asthma or asthma-like conditions in the afflicted individual.
As said before, a disc made of muscle, called the esophageal sphincter weakens to allow acid to pass back up though the gullet. Since the sphincter does not have a protective lining to shield it from the harmful effects of acid (like the stomach does), a long-standing case of GERD can have a deeply corrosive effect on it. The up-flowing acid also seeps into the windpipe and lungs, causing a choking sensation from time to time, especially during sleep. In older people, this condition can cause serious inflammation of the throat and cause great difficulty in swallowing. Some of the more severe diseases that can arise due to the long-term effects of GERD are: Barret’s esophagus, strengthening of asthma, esophageal stricture, or erosive esophagitis. Of these, people who have Barret’s esophagus are at considerably higher risk of developing esophageal cancer.
There are several throat aliments or inflammations that a person with GERD may suffer from. These include: granulomas, laryngitis, pulmonary fibrosis and sleep disorders.
Can the Damages due to GERD be Undone/Reversed?
It largely depends on the particular individual who’s dealing with the affliction. In some cases, where the acid has worn out a considerable part of the muscles and structure and other areas of the alimentary canal that lie above the stomach, the damage might become permanent. The most dangerous side effect in such cases, is the developing of a condition like Barret’s esophagus, which, as mentioned above, can give rise to throat cancer. But in most cases, the damages are reversible if brought to medical attention on time. Below is the complete take on this:
Cure for GERD: Medications, Surgeries and Home Remedies
There are a host of medications that can be used to treat GERD, such as esomeprazole (Nexium), rabeprazole (Aciphex), omeprazole (Prilosec, Zegerid) etc. Most commonly used are antacids such as Tums and Mylanta, or acid-reducing medications such as Axid AR or Pepcid AC. Proton pump inhibitors such as lansoprazole and omeprazole are stronger than the H2 receptors like Axid AR and help to heal the esophageal cavity.
For individuals with badly-damaged sphincters or throat tissues, surgical procedures such as fundoplication or insertion of the LINX device are frequently employed. While the former involves strengthening of the sphincter muscles to keep any acid from seeping up, the latter involves placing of a string of magnetic beads around the sphincter to keep the junction between the stomach and the esophagus from loosening. Out of these two, the former is largely non-invasive in nature.
Apart from surgery and medication, there are lots of common home remedies which are used as natural treatments for GERD. These are effective and simple enough for anybody to follow:
While GERD itself can be fatal depending on the health condition of a particular individual, there is no need to panic in case the symptoms keep popping up. In most cases, timely medical intervention and taking corrective lifestyle measures can eliminate the condition completely and enable one to live a healthy life again.