GERD: What is gastroesophageal reflux disease?

Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is common among individuals of all ages and is caused by acid or contents from the stomach rising into the esophagus or mouth. The discomfort caused by acid reflux often includes symptoms of heartburn, vomiting, cough, burning sensation in chest, or stomach pain. When GER occurs on a consistent basis, it is considered gastroesophageal reflux disease. Both GER and GERD may resolve entirely with lifestyle modifications (many listed below), though medications may be needed as well.

Why is it important to control symptoms?

If an individual is experiencing reflux most days of the week, the repeated exposure of the esophagus to stomach acids may cause damage to the tissue over time. Although the irritation may simply be uncomfortable in the short-term, the long-term effects may include serious complications including pre-cancerous changes (Barrett’s esophagus) or ulceration of the esophagus.

Management Strategies

Lifestyle changes

  • Avoid triggering foods (caffeine, chocolate, tomato, alcohol, spicy foods, peppermint, fatty foods)
  • Eat meals at least 3 hours before bed
  • Sit upright after meals, may raise the head of your bed, if symptoms occur at night
  • Weight loss
  • Avoid smoking
  • Medications
    • Antacids: provide short-term symptom relief (examples: Tums, Mylanta)
    • Histamine antagonists: decrease the body’s stomach acid formation (examples: ranitidine (Zantac), cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid) )
    • For more severe symptoms:
      • Proton Pump Inhibitors: more effective medication for decreasing stomach acid production
      • omeprazole (Prilosec), esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), pantoprazole (Protonix), rabeprazole (AcipHex)
      • Therapy typically lasts 8 weeks before weaning of medication
      • If symptoms continue, treatment may be continued

When to call your healthcare provider:

If you have recurrent, uncontrolled symptoms, please contact your primary care provider to prevent potential consequences of uncontrolled GERD. If you have any further questions, we would be happy to discuss them with you at Reid Family & Specialty Care in New Castle.

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