Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Acid Reflux Solution Kit

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Reflux relief using 3 common grocery store items.

Acid reflux is quite a common occurrence:  It can happen to anybody, anytime.  It can happen to kids younger than 12 months, a childhood malady known as spitting up.  Spitting up is usually outgrown after 12 months of age. Acid reflux can also happen to adults after a heavy meal, and the condition may never recur.  Stomach contents back up the esophagus, and sometimes without apparent reason. The accompanying symptoms – like sudden stabbing pain in the chest area (heartburn), sour aftertaste, difficulty swallowing, and burping often – may not result to complications, unless acid reflux (medically referred to as Gastroesophageal Reflux or GER) becomes persistent, in which case it becomes a disease, known as GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). GERD has to be managed medically, because long-term exposure of the esophageal lining to corrosive stomach acids could result to ulcers or cancer.

Gastroenterologists are still not clear as to why GERD occurs in otherwise healthy individuals, except in cases where patients were naturally born with a weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES) – the valve that stops the backflow. What they know however is that LES relaxes because of various aggravating factors, so it is important to steer clear of these triggers:

  • Avoid consuming caffeinated drinks when you are already suffering from frequent heartburn.  Caffeine acidifies stomach contents, making the already caustic digestive juice more corrosive to the unprotected lining of the esophagus.  The same can be said about alcohol, so either take it moderately or quit it altogether;
  • Minimize consumption of chocolates and chocolate derivates.  Chocolate contains concentrations of theobromine, also known as xantheose, a bitter alkaloid of the cacao plant.  This alkaloid relaxes the LES;
  • Quit smoking altogether.  Smoking relaxes the valve;
  • Take smaller, frequent meals.  Small meals are easier to digest, easier to get transported out of the stomach and into the large intestine.  Heavy meals sit longer in the stomach; the longer they remain undigested, the higher the chances that they will be pushed out by inappropriate posture;
  • Remain upright, especially after heavy meals.  Gravity works to keep the digestive contents where they should be.  It is not yet scientifically explored, but there is a body of anecdotal incidence where death occurs among individuals who lie down after meals.  Gastric juices tend to flow back into the esophagus when lying supine, blocking the windpipe.  Those who are lucky enough to be awoken by a cough should keep in mind that lying after eating do not go together;
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothes, especially those that cinch around the middle.  Putting pressure around the waist would result to stomach contents pushed up and out of the valve.

Lifestyle changes are the first steps to prevent GERD from developing complications.  If the condition does persist, the doctor may suggest the following options:

  • Drug Therapy:  Antacids are usually prescribed to abate the symptoms, particularly heartburn.  Since antacids neutralize stomach acids, when contents do back up into the esophagus, they at least will not do as much damage as caustic digestive juices would.  This however, will not have a direct effect on the functioning of the LES.
  • Surgery: When all approaches fail to put the condition under control, a patient may have to live with the discomforts for the rest of his life, or opt to go for aggressive medical intervention:
      • Laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery is done inside the abdomen by inserting narrow tubes through small incisions.  The abdomen is inflated by gas, so surgeons can visualize the organ clearly.  This type of surgery involves reinforcing the valve, much in the same way that a bun wraps around a hotdog.  If this procedure can’t be done inside, surgeons may perform an open operation where the abdomen is exposed so doctors would be able to handle the organ effectively.  This is true among patients who are obese or who have prior abdominal surgery that resulted to dense scar tissue.
      • Endoscopic techniques that require the use of EndoCinch system is one option.  The procedure involves stitching the LES to create pleats that will help strengthen it. Another system, the Stretta system, employs electrodes to create small burns on the LES, with the idea that when the scar heals, it will further tighten the valve.