The terms GERD, acid reflux and heartburn are very often used in place of each other. However, they have different meanings. Acid reflux is a common medical condition which could be anything from mild to extremely severe. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the more severe form of acid reflux. Heartburn is a symptom of both acid reflux and GERD.

What is Heartburn?

A person is said to be suffering from heartburn when there is mild to severe pain in their chest. It is sometimes mistaken for heart attack pain. However, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart and occurs in the digestive system, specifically in the esophagus. Since the esophagus lining is delicate, the acid in the esophagus causes a burning sensation in the chest. Some people may describe heartburn as a sharp, burning and/or tightening sensation, while some may call it a burning discomfort that moves up around the neck and throat or that is located behind the chest bone. Heartburn is common and usually occurs after eating.

Managing Heartburn

  • Lose weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Eat fewer fatty foods
  • Avoid spicy or acidic foods
  • Mild and infrequent heartburns can be treated with medications such as antacids

What is Acid Reflux?

The lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) is a circular muscle that joins the esophagus and the stomach. This muscle is responsible for tightening the esophagus after food goes into the stomach. If this muscle is weak or does not tighten properly (due to being relaxed), the acid from the stomach can go back into the esophagus and this is known as acid reflux.

Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux.

Other symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Bitter taste in the back of the throat
  • Sour taste
  • Burning and pressure that can extend up to the chest bone

What is GERD?

GERD is a more chronic form of acid reflux. It is usually diagnosed when acid reflux causes inflammation in the esophagus or occurs very often (more than twice a week). Unfortunately, pain from GERD cannot be cured by antacids or other over-the-counter (OTC) medications. GERD can have its impact on any individual, regardless of age bracket. Long-term esophageal damage can lead to cancer. People suffering from asthma are much more susceptible to developing GERD.

During an asthma attack, it is possible for the lower oesophageal sphincter to relax. This allows the contents in the stomach to flow back up into the esophagus. Certain asthma medicines such as Theophylline can worsen such reflux symptoms. This is a double-edged sword because it is possible that this reflux can worsen asthmatic symptoms by irritating airways and lungs, triggering allergic reactions and making it easier for environmental conditions such as smoke and cold air to cause discomfort in the airways.

Symptoms of GERD

Gastroesophageal reflux is common and comes into people’s lives in the form of a burp, acidic taste in the mouth or sometimes even a heartburn. Additional symptoms of GERD include –

  • Acid regurgitation (feeling like stomach contents have come back up to the throat or mouth)
  • Asthma
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Excessive saliva
  • Chronic sore throat
  •  Hoarseness
  • Gum inflammation
  • Cavities
  • Bad breath
  • Chest pain
  • Persistent dry cough

Most people can suffer from heartburn and acid reflux infrequently due to something they ate or because of lying down or bending over immediately after eating. However, doctors examine long-lasting habits as well as parts of a person’s anatomy in order to identify the cause of GERD.

Causes of GERD

  • Being overweight or obese (which in turn puts additional pressure on the stomach)
  • Hiatal hernia (which reduces pressure in the LES)
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Pregnancy
  • Consuming medication that weakens the LES (antihistamines, calcium channel blockers, pain-relievingmedication, sedatives, antidepressants, etc.)

Symptoms of GERD may disrupt your daily life. Fortunately, they can usually be diagnosed and controlled with treatment.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing GERD involves conducting several tests including:

  • X-ray of the upper digestive system
  • Endoscopy (examination of the inside of the esophagus)
  • Ambulatory acid (pH) test (monitors the amount of acid in the esophagus)
  • Oesophageal impedance test (measuring the movement of substances in the esophagus)

Treatment and Management

If an individual is suffering from both GERD and asthma, treating and managing GERD will help control symptoms of asthma. Evidence from research studies suggests that those suffering from asthma and GERD saw a reduction in their asthma medication use after treating their reflux disease.

Medications for GERD mainly work to reduce the amount of acid present in the stomach but may not be effective for everyone. In order to rid oneself of this chronic disease, it is essential to take the right medication in addition to making dietary modifications that suit the bodily requirements of a GERD patient. While medications provide for short-term relief from symptoms, long term treatment requires altering eating habits to the extent that it is visible in patients’ palettes every time they eat a meal.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Losing weight
  • Smoking cessation
  • Alcohol cessation
  • Limiting meal portions and avoiding heavy meals
  • Avoiding lying down two to three hours after eating
  • Reducing caffeine intake
  • Avoiding Theophylline (if possible)
  • Elevating the head of the bed by 6-8 inches
  • Eat slowly
  • Regular exercise
  • Avoiding exercise a few hours after eating
  • Avoiding tight-fitting clothes including tight-fitting belts and slenderizing undergarments (they squeeze the stomach, forcing food up against the LES)

Foods to be avoided

  • Chocolates
  • High-fat foods
  • –          Garlic, onion, and spicy foods
  • Citrus fruits
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Peppermint
  • Milk

Foods to be included

  • Proteins
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Healthy fats
  • Ginger
  • Oatmeal
  • Complex carbohydrates
  • Fennel
  • Watermelon,cantaloupe, honeydew
  • Probiotic foods

In addition, over-the-counter antacids and H2 blockers could help reduce the impact of stomach acid. Proton pump inhibitors may also be effective since they block acid production. In severe and medication intolerant cases, surgery could also be recommended. Implementing the correct treatment including the right medication and necessary lifestyle changes can allow patients to manage their GERD disease.

Author Bio:

Sofia is an enthusiastic writer on health & nutrition topics. She has been working in this industry for more than five years now. Lately, she has started working as a freelance health writer to share the knowledge she has gained over the years. She also writes about Health, fitness, lifestyle & nutrition. Other than his work, she loves playing outdoor sports.