Many people suffer from symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux and have been for so long that they just believe it is a normal sensation that occurs with eating. This may not be the case, as heartburn, or acid reflux can be mistaken for GERD. GERD stands for Gastroesophageal reflux disease and the two are closely related.
With the way that our digestive system is set up, as we eat something, it travels from our mouth into the pharynx, closing the trachea, passing through the throat, and continues to the esophagus towards the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). From there, the food particles reach the stomach where acids and enzymes break down the food in the stomach. Acid reflux occurs when there is a backwards flow of stomach acid that goes back into the esophagus and sometimes reaches the mouth. When this happens, you may taste regurgitated food or a sour liquid in the back of your throat, or feel a burning sensation behind the breastbone that comes in waves (known as heartburn). When these episodes persist, they can progress to a more severe form known as GERD. With this progression, more symptoms can appear such as frequent heartburn and reflux of the regurgitated food or sour liquid, trouble swallowing, a chronic cough, hoarseness, wheezing, and even chest pain (especially when lying down during night time).
Heartburn is normally caused by acidic stomach contents rising back into the esophagus, however, generally, if the lower esophageal sphincter is working properly, this reflux shouldn’t occur. The causes of GERD, on the other hand, are not known but there are several contributing factors that have been found.
Complementary alternative medicine focuses on the necessary lifestyle changes to support heartburn and GERD, as they are largely influenced by our everyday choices, and especially our eating habits.
If you suffer from heartburn and acid reflux, it is important to monitor these symptoms because GERD can lead to damage to the esophagus (esophagitis) due to the constant stomach acid. Further inflammation of the esophagus from the stomach acid can cause bleeding, ulcers, and scar tissue damage that can narrow the esophagus and make swallowing difficult. Long term, damage from GERD can lead to Barrett’s esophagus which is a precancerous condition, esophageal cancer, esophageal restrictrictions or even holes. There have been some studies that have shown that GERD can aggravate or even cause asthma, chronic cough, and pulmonary fibrosis (a respiratory disease where scars form on the lungs).
Again, the best measures that can be taken are preventative ones. If you suffer from occasional heartburn and reflux, there are many lifestyle changes that can help alleviate these symptoms and prevent long-term damage.
***Those suffering from frequent heartburn and reflux should see their primary care providers to rule out any serious complications and should be monitored regularly. If you suspect that you may have GERD, your symptoms worsen, or you experience nausea, vomiting, or difficulty swallowing, consult your physician. Anyone with a history of cardiovascular disease that experiences new upper digestive pain should go to the emergency room immediately because sometimes a heart attack can be mistaken for stomach problems.
5 Tips for managing Heartburn and GERD:
1. Avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption, as it can cause permanent damage to the lower esophageal sphincter!
2. Eat only when relaxed
3. Eat small, frequent meals
4. Avoid too many different foods at the same meal
5. Avoid “trigger” foods that increase symptoms such as spicy food, caffeine, fatty and fried foods, citrus, tomatoes, and peppermint.
If you have no luck with conventional methods of relief, seeking complementary alternative medicine support for this condition can be extremely beneficial and have great results!