Everyone has gastroesophageal reflux (GER), the backward movement (reflux) of gastric contents into the esophagus. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, occurs when acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus. Normally, food travels from the mouth, down through the esophagus and into the stomach. A ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), contracts to keep the acidic contents of the stomach from "refluxing" or coming back up into the esophagus. In those who have GERD, the LES does not close properly, allowing acid to move up the esophagus.
When stomach acid touches the sensitive tissue lining the esophagus, it causes a reaction similar to squirting lemon juice in your eye. This is why GERD is often characterized by the burning sensation known as heartburn. Occasional heartburn is normal. However, if heartburn becomes chronic, occurring more than twice a week, you may have GERD. Left untreated, GERD can lead to more serious health problems.
Anyone can have GERD. Women, men, infants and children can all experience this disorder. Overweight people and pregnant women are particularly susceptible because of the pressure on their stomachs. Recent studies indicate that GERD may often be overlooked in infants and children. In infants and children, GERD can cause repeated vomiting, coughing, and other respiratory problems such as sore throat and ear infections. Most infants grow out of GERD by the time they are one year old.
The symptoms of GERD may include persistent heartburn, acid regurgitation, and nausea. Some people have GERD without heartburn. Instead, they experience pain in the chest that can be sever enough to mimic the pain of a heart attack, hoarseness in the morning, or trouble swallowing. Some people may also feel like they have food stuck in their throat or like they are choking. GERD can also cause a dry cough and bad breath. Other symptoms include hoarseness, frequent sore throats, metallic or sour taste in the mouth, burning on the tongue, vocal cord inflammation, chronic cough and laryngitis.
Physical causes of GERD can include: a malfunctioning or abnormal lower esophageal sphincter muscle (LES), hiatal hernia, abnormal esophageal contractions, and slow emptying of the stomach. Social factors include alcohol use, smoking, obesity, citrus fruits, chocolate, caffeine, spicy foods, and tomato based foods.
Otolaryngologists, or ear, nose, and throat doctors, and have extensive experience with the tools that diagnose GERD and they are specialists in the treatment of many of the complications of GERD, including: sinus and ear infections, throat and laryngeal inflammation, Barrett's esophagus, and ulcerations of the esophagus. Our Swallowing and Voice Center has the latest technology to diagnose reflux and its associated complaints.
GERD may damage the lining of the esophagus, thereby causing inflammation (esophagitis), although usually it does not. Barrett's esophagus is a pre-cancerous condition that requires periodic endoscopic surveillance for the development of cancer. So, if you feel you may have GERD or you have persistent heartburn,, a trip to your Ear, Nose and throat doctor would be beneficial.