We’ve all experienced it at least one time, and when we do, it’s pretty unforgettable: that burning sensation behind the breastbone, usually after a rich or spicy meal, with nighttime being the witching hour.
Think back to that Super Bowl party, or perhaps the time you added a little too much hot sauce to your burrito. You might have regretted that decision later that night. Heartburn doesn’t technically involve your heart, although the experience can be heartbreaking. The medical term for heartburn is gastroesophageal reflux disease – or GERD. What causes GERD, and is it preventable?
What Goes Up…
The term gastroesophageal describes the stomach and the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth and stomach and carries food from one to the other. Reflux is the action of flowing back. Hence, gastroesophageal reflux disease – GERD – occurs when the contents of the stomach flow back up into the esophagus.
In a healthy digestive system, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) acts like a trap door, opening to pass food into the stomach, then closing. This stops food and stomach acids from going from the stomach into the esophagus. When the LES is compromised or doesn’t close properly, gastroesophageal reflux – heartburn – occurs. Over time, the acids can irritate the lining of the esophagus and lead to serious, even fatal health complications.
Common Causes of GERD
Certain lifestyle traits and habits trigger GERD. They include:
- Eating large, spicy, or rich meals, especially close to bedtime.
- Excessive or uncustomary consumption of fatty, fried, or acidic foods.
- Carbonated beverages, which create gas that forces the esophageal sphincter to open and can promote reflux.
- Excess consumption of alcohol, especially on an empty stomach.
- Tobacco and caffeine.
- Wearing tight-fitting garments that place an increased pressure on the abdomen and can open the esophageal sphincter.
- Certain medications that can lead to the relaxation of the LES muscle and the reflux of stomach contents.
Other Health Factors that Increase the Risk of GERD:
- Being overweight or obese.
- Constipation or delayed, irregular bowel movements.
- Stress and anxiety.
- Hiatal hernias.
- High blood calcium.
- Sleep apnea.
Occasional mild acid reflux is very common and should not be a cause for alarm, especially if you can pinpoint the reason you might be experiencing it. In most cases, GERD can be relieved through diet or lifestyle changes. However, severe acid reflux that occurs several times a week will most likely require medication or even surgery.
If you believe you are suffering from GERD or are seeking information or answers on behalf of someone you love, Rockville Concierge Doctors can help by providing personalized, patient-centered care for your acute and chronic conditions.
To learn more about the benefits of concierge medicine and what we have to offer, schedule a complimentary consultation today. Call (301) 545-1811 or get started online.