Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Also called: Gastroesophageal reflux disease
Your esophagus is the tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) happens when a muscle at the end of your esophagus does not close properly. This allows stomach contents to leak back, or reflux, into the esophagus and irritate it.
You may feel a burning in the chest or throat called heartburn. Sometimes, you can taste stomach fluid in the back of the mouth. This is acid indigestion. If you have these symptoms more than twice a week, you may have GERD.
Heartburn is the major symptom of acid in the esophagus, characterized by burning discomfort behind the breastbone (sternum). Findings in GERD include esophagitis (reflux esophagitis) — inflammatory changes in the esophageal lining (mucosa) —, strictures, difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), and chronic chest pain. Patients may have only one of those symptoms. Typical GERD symptoms include cough, hoarseness, voice changes, chronic ear ache, burning chest pains, nausea or sinusitis. GERD complications include stricture formation, Barrett's esophagus, esophageal spasms, esophageal ulcers, and possibly even lead to esophageal cancer, especially in adults over 60 years old.
Occasional heartburn is common but does not necessarily mean one has GERD. Patients with heartburn symptoms more than once a week are at risk of developing GERD. A hiatal hernia is usually asymptomatic, but the presence of a hiatal hernia is a risk factor for developing GERD.
GERD may be difficult to detect in infants and children. Symptoms may vary from typical adult symptoms. GERD in children may cause repeated vomiting, effortless spitting up, coughing, and other respiratory problems. Inconsolable crying, failure to gain adequate weight, refusing food, bad breath, and belching or burping are also common. Children may have one symptom or many — no single symptom is universal in all children with GERD.
It is estimated that of the approximately 4 million babies born in the U.S. each year, up to 35% of them may have difficulties with reflux in the first few months of their life. Most of those children will outgrow their reflux by their first birthday. However, a small but significant number of them will not outgrow the condition.
Babies' immature digestive systems are usually the cause, and most infants stop having acid reflux by the time they reach their first birthday. Some children do not outgrow acid reflux, however, and continue to have it into their teen years. Children who have had heartburn that does not seem to go away, or any other GERD symptoms for a while, should talk to their parents and visit their doctor.
24-Hour Esophageal pH Test(Cleveland Clinic Foundation)
48-Hour Bravo Esophageal pH Test(Cleveland Clinic Foundation)
Upper Endoscopy(National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)
Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Tract X-Ray (Radiography)(American College of Radiology, Radiological Society of North America)
Also available in Spanish
Upper GI Endoscopy(Patient Education Institute) - Requires Flash Player
Physicians recommend lifestyle modifications when not recommending drugs to treat GERD. A 2006 review suggested that evidence for most dietary interventions is anecdotal; only weight loss and elevating the head of the bed were supported by evidence. A subsequent randomized crossover study showed benefit by avoiding eating two hours before bed
Certain foods and lifestyle are considered to promote gastroesophageal reflux:
-Coffee, alcohol, and excessive amounts of Vitamin C supplements stimulate gastric acid secretion. Taking these before bedtime especially can cause evening reflux.
-Foods high in fats and smoking reduce lower esophageal sphincter competence, so avoiding these tends to help. Fat also delays stomach emptying.
-Eating within 2-3 hours before bedtime.
-Large meals. Having more but smaller meals reduces GERD risk, as it means there is less food in the stomach at any one time.
-Carbonated soft drinks with or without sugar.
-Chocolate and peppermint.
-Acidic foods, such as oranges and tomatoes.
-Cruciferous vegetables: onions, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts.
-Milk and milk-based products containing calcium and fat, within 2 hours of bedtime
Sleeping on the left side has been shown to drastically reduce nighttime reflux episodes in patients
Elevating the head of the bed is also effective. Additional conservative measures may be considered if there is incomplete relief. Another approach is to apply all conservative measures for maximum response. A meta-analysis suggested that elevating the head of bed is an effective therapy, although this conclusion was only supported by nonrandomized studies
The head of the bed can be elevated by plastic or wooden bed risers that support bed posts or legs, a bed wedge pillow, or a wedge or an inflatable mattress lifter that fits in between mattress and box spring. The height of the elevation is critical and must be at least 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) to be at least minimally effective to prevent the backflow of gastric fluids. It should be noted that some innerspring mattresses do not work well when inclined and tend to cause back pain, thus foam mattresses are to be preferred. Some practitioners use higher degrees of incline than provided by the commonly suggested 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) and claim greater success.
A number of drugs are registered for GERD treatment, and they are among the most-often-prescribed forms of medication in most Western countries. They can be used in combination with other drugs, although some antacids can interfere with the function of other drugs:
-Proton pump inhibitors are the most effective in reducing gastric acid secretion. These drugs stop acid secretion at the source of acid production, i.e., the proton pump.
-Antacids before meals or symptomatically after symptoms begin can reduce gastric acidity (increase pH).
-Alginic acid (Gaviscon) may coat the mucosa as well as increase pH and decrease reflux. A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials suggests alginic acid may be the most effective of non-prescription treatments with a number needed to treat of 4
-Gastric H2 receptor blockers such as ranitidine or famotidine can reduce gastric secretion of acid. These drugs are technically antihistamines. They relieve complaints in about 50% of all GERD patients. Compared to placebo (which also is associated with symptom improvement), they have a number needed to treat of eight
-Prokinetics strengthen the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and speed up gastric emptying. Cisapride, a member of this class, was withdrawn from the market for causing Long QT syndrome.
-Sucralfate (Carafate) is also useful as an adjunct in helping to heal and prevent esophageal damage caused by GERD, however it must be taken several times daily and at least two (2) hours apart from meals and medications.
Posture and GERD
In adults, a slouched posture is an important factor contributing to GERD. With a slouched posture there is no straight path between the stomach and esophagus; muscles around the esophagus go into a spasm. Gas and acidity get blocked in the spasm, causing coughing and other asthma-like symptoms. A meta-analysis suggested that elevating the head of the bed is an effective therapy, although this conclusion was only supported by nonrandomized studies
The standard surgical treatment, sometimes preferred over longtime use of medication, is the Nissen fundoplication. The upper part of the stomach is wrapped around the LES to strengthen the sphincter and prevent acid reflux and to repair a hiatal hernia. The procedure is often done laparoscopically.
An obsolete treatment is vagotomy ("highly selective vagotomy"), the surgical removal of vagus nerve branches that innervate the stomach lining. This treatment has been largely replaced by medication.