Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a chronic condition that affects the upper digestive tract. It occurs when a muscle at the base of the esophagus fails to close properly, resulting in food and digestive acid backing up into the esophagus and irritating the sensitive esophageal lining. While esophageal reflux disease is rarely serious, there is the possibility of potentially problematic complications developing. This article will provide an overview of gastroesophageal reflux disease, including how to recognize it and where to turn for relief.
The symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease are basically the same as heartburn. They include a burning sensation in the chest and a bitter, acidic taste in the throat. Symptoms may become worse when you bend over or lie down. In some cases, patients may also experience a dry mouth and chronic cough. The condition is occasionally mistaken for a heart attack because of the chest pain involved. Some sufferers experience hoarseness, a sore throat, or feeling as though there is a lump in the back of the throat. While some of these symptoms are typical of bouts of heartburn, if they occur two or more times a week, your doctor may diagnose you with gastroesophageal reflux disease.
While most cases of gastroesophageal reflux disease are not serious, there are potentially problematic complications that can result. When the esophagus is consistently exposed to harmful stomach acids, damage can occur to the lining. This damage can result in a narrowing of the esophageal tube, which can make it difficult to swallow. The acids can also cause an open sore in the wall of the esophagus that bleeds and becomes very painful. In severe cases, the patient may develop what is known as Barrett's Esophagus; a condition that places the patient at higher risk for esophageal cancer. Because of these potential complications, many doctors will treat gastroesophageal reflux disease from the get go, using medications and home remedies to keep symptoms in check.
Some patients can effectively treat gastroesophageal reflux disease with over the counter medications. Treatment usually begins with the occasional antacid and then moves to H-2 receptor blockers and proton pump inhibitors as necessary. H-2 receptor blockers reduce acid production so it is less likely to cause symptoms. Proton pump inhibitors block acid production completely, allowing the esophagus time to heal from damage. If over the counter medications are not effective, prescription strength drugs are also available.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a common condition that is fairly easy to diagnose and treat. If you are experiencing frequent heartburn symptoms, make an appointment with your doctor for a gastroesophageal reflux disease diagnosis and treatment options.