Acid reflux or GERD is a condition that bothers millions of people around the world. The condition affects people of all races and ages.
Yes, even though when people think about heartburn they tend to think about middle-aged people or senior citizens, even babies can have the illness. The first stage of the condition, Gastroesophageal Reflux (or GER) is the mildest version, also known as heartburn which, if not treated correctly, can develop into the more serious condition, GERD.
It is always a good idea to consult a gastroenterologist when you suspect that you might have GER or GERD.
Reflux is basically the result of a malfunctioning oesophagus. There is a muscle at the bottom of this organ called the lower esophageal sphincter that is designed to prevent the food you swallow from returning to the oesophagus. Unfortunately, sometimes this muscle fails.
The failure of the system to keep swallowed food in the stomach results in some of it returning through the oesophagus and into the throat. Of course, this content is often acidic as stomach acids have already started the digestive process. The result is discomfort, which may include; a ‘lump’ sensation in the throat or a burning sensation in the chest or throat among others.
Why Reflux or GERD Happens
Sometimes reflux is the result of your diet. If you pay close attention to reflux flare-ups you’ll probably realize that they typically follow a meal that has a high-fat content or a heavy meal.
In other cases, it is caused by a physiological condition called a Hiatal Hernia. In this condition, a part of the top of the stomach pushes up into a space left by the diaphragm. This, in turn, hinders the esophageal sphincter’s ability to close up.
If you are pregnant or overweight the additional pressure on your abdomen can cause reflux or GERD. You are also at risk for developing the condition if you take certain medications. These medications include some antidepressants, antihistamines and medication used to treat high blood pressure. If you smoke or spend a lot of time around smokers, you are also at risk for developing reflux.
The Reflux Solution Specialists
The Medical Professional best equipped to help you handle your reflux issues is a gastroenterologist. Gastroenterologists are trained and certified to diagnose and treat problems related to the oesophagus, colon, rectum, bile ducts, gallbladder, liver, pancreas and intestines. Essentially, they specialize in the body’s digestive system and since GERD is a digestive issue these specialists are the best fit for the job.
It is important to note that even if you are experiencing symptoms that point to GER or GERD, only a professional Gastroenterologist can diagnose your situation. Even if your symptoms are mild, it is a good idea to consult a GI specialist. Remarkably, not everyone who has GERD will experience heartburn. This is another reason expert diagnosis is important.
When to See Your Gastroenterologist
Some cases of reflux are mild and don’t require immediate medical attention since you may be able to keep symptoms at bay by changing your lifestyle habits. You may find, for example, that eating smaller portions instead of large meals or eliminating fatty food resolves your reflux issues.
But when your reflux issues are severe or persistent you need the help of a professional. Your GERD needs professional attention if:
- over the counter medications stop working for you
- your symptoms or flare-ups occur more than twice in a week
- you start experiencing breathing issues (such as uncontrollable coughing or asthma-like symptoms)
- you experience oesophageal pain
- you experience heavy vomiting, vomiting with projectile, vomiting with blood in it or vomit that is yellow or resembles coffee beans
- Eating causes pain in your throat
A professional gastroenterologist can help you manage GER or GERD.
Your Gastroenterologist may suggest lifestyle changes such as adjusting your food portions and food type, having your meals far away from bedtime (ideally two to three hours before), and wearing clothes that fit loosely. If this doesn’t result in the improvements you seek, your GI specialist can also prescribe medication to ease your GERD symptoms. These medications include h2 blockers, prokinetics and proton pump inhibitors.
If your symptoms do not ease despite treatment protocols, your GI specialist will recommend testing and possibly surgical intervention.
While reflux is typically a non-life-threatening ailment, ignoring it in its early or late stages puts you at risk for developing more serious illnesses such as ulcers or oesophagitis later on in life. Don’t allow reflux issues to control your life and make you uncomfortable.