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What is GERD?

    GERD is a chronic digestive disease where the liquid content of the stomach refluxes into the esophagus, the tube connecting the mouth and stomach. The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn, which usually feels like a burning chest pain that begins behind the breastbone and moves upwards to the neck and throat. Other symptoms include chest pain, difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia), persistent dry cough, hoarseness or sore throat, regurgitation of food or sour liquid (acid reflux), vomiting, and sensation of food caught or a lump in your throat. It is estimated that 20% of Americans suffer from GERD.

    GERD is caused by frequent acid reflux – the backflow of stomach acid or bile into the esophagus. The risk factors include lower esophageal sphincter abnormalities, hiatal hernia, abnormal esophageal contractions, slow or prolonged emptying of the stomach. The prevalence of GERD has been increasing among populations in recent years. This may be due to a variety of factors including older age, analgesic intake, consumption of certain food and drink types, smoking, family history, helicobacter pylori infection, limited physical activity, and high body mass index (BMI).

    GERD can cause difficulty swallowing because it can lead to narrowing of the esophagus. This narrowing can be caused by inflammation or scarring due to acid reflux. The narrowing can also be caused by spasms in the esophagus. If you have GERD and experience difficulty swallowing, it is important to talk to your doctor about treatment options. Additionally, GERD can lead to laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), also known as silent reflux, which occurs when a muscle at the end of the esophagus does not close properly. This allows stomach contents to leak back — or reflux — into the esophagus and cause irritation. Symptoms include sore throat and an irritated larynx (voice box).

    There are several preventative precautions that can be taken to reduce the risk of GERD. These include losing weight if you are overweight or obese, avoiding foods known to cause reflux such as fatty and fried foods, carbonated beverages, garlic and onions, chocolate, peppermint and spearmint, acidic vegetables including tomatoes and tomato sauces, and citrus fruits, eating smaller meals, not lying down after eating, elevating your bed, reviewing your medications, quitting smoking, and cutting back on alcohol.

    There are several treatment options for GERD. Generally, the treatment begins with over-the-counter medication to control stomach acid. If the pain prolongs for a few weeks, the doctor may prescribe other treatments medications, surgery, and speech therapy to teach compensatory swallow techniques and address voice deficits associated with LPR. If you or a loved one is experiencing swallow difficulty or weight loss due to GERD, a Speech-Language Pathologist may be able to help. Call Speech Care at Home at (813) 344-3207 today.