Contributed by: Rachana Arya
Acid reflux and chronic heartburn are signs of gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. GERD is a more severe kind of acid reflux that can be quite uncomfortable. This dangerous illness can potentially result in precancerous alterations in the esophageal lining. Unfortunately, just like many other medical conditions, misconceptions about this ailment are also widespread. In this article, we debunk some of the most prevalent misconceptions about GERD and set them straight.
How is GERD diagnosed?
If you experience persistent and frequent symptoms, you should talk to a specialist in gut medicine known as a gastroenterologist to determine the underlying cause. Your doctor will undertake a complete physical examination in order to diagnose GERD, during which you must detail your symptoms and medical history. If your doctor notices the common signs of reflux illness, such as heartburn and regurgitation, he or she may begin therapy without completing any diagnostic tests.
However, laboratory testing may be carried out if the following conditions are met:
- Your signs and symptoms are unusual.
- There is an enhanced risk of esophageal injury.
- Initial treatment does not seem to be helping the symptoms
- Anti-reflux surgery is being considered by your doctor
The following are some of the GERD diagnostic procedures:
- Endoscopy of the upper intestine
- Testing for reflux (wireless pH/pH impedance)
- Manometry of the esophagus
- Esophagram with barium
Myth #1: GERD does not affect the quality of life
Surveys show that the presence of GERD can have a significant negative impact on all domains of the patients’ lives – physical state, emotional state, social functioning, and an impact on productivity. GERD causes unpleasant symptoms such as heartburn, bloating, or discomfort, which may be present throughout the day or even appear during sleep.
Chronic and poorly treated GERD may lead sufferers to experience impairment in vitality, emotional distress, reduced physical and social activity. Studies have also revealed specific symptoms like reduced enjoyment of food (which was mainly associated with provoking symptoms), sleep disturbance, and difficulty in concentration at work when GERD was present.
Myth #2: Excess acid production causes GERD
Another old misconception. The problem in GERD is not only the volume of acid. The amount of acid produced in the stomach of a GERD patient is generally normal, but the problem is that the acid is created in the wrong place. The acidic stomach contents move backward into the esophagus instead of staying in the stomach.
This can occur due to various reasons:
- The muscle does not tighten properly
- It doesn’t shut properly or quickly enough, allowing stomach contents to wash back up
- If a person eats excessively, the stomach muscle may get so stretched that it is unable to function properly
Myth #3: GERD causes complications only in the esophagus
This is a completely false myth. Heartburn is the most well-known symptom of GERD, however, it is not the only symptom or problem. According to recent research, GERD may develop or aggravate asthma. People with GERD are more likely than others to develop heart disease, which is characterized by irregular heartbeats, plaque build-up in the arteries of the heart, and reduced blood supply to the heart.
Another problem is hoarseness in the throat or around the vocal cords, which is caused by acid reflux irritation. Chronic cough, sinusitis, sleep disturbances, and sore throat are all possible side effects. The most serious complication of chronic and long-term GERD is the development of Barrett’s esophagus.
Myth #4: Too much stress causes GERD
Although experts are still not sure about the link between GERD and anxiety, it is known that worry and stress can induce or worsen GERD symptoms. The stress can both be physical or mental. Increased levels of stress may create changes in the brain that increase the sensitivity of pain receptors, making you physiologically more sensitive to even minor increases in acid levels. So it would not be wrong to say would be that too much stress worsens GERD.
Myth #5: There is no treatment for GERD
This is the biggest myth. There are several management strategies to counter GERD. General treatment includes prescription medications and over-the-counter remedies along with subtle dietary and lifestyle modifications.
The following lifestyle changes can help ease the symptoms of GERD:
- Quit smoking
- Avoiding alcohol
- Decreasing weight, if you’re overweight
- Eating smaller portions of food
- Wearing loose-fitting garments
- Avoiding carbonated beverages
- Avoiding foods that cause reflux
- Avoiding lying down immediately after a meal
- Refraining from eating 2 to 3 hours before going to bed
Myth #6: GERD cannot cause serious complications
Most people tend to believe that GERD is a common disease like flu and is not really serious. This is a serious mistake and GERD should not be taken lightly. Most often, GERD doesn’t cause serious complications, however, in some cases, it can lead to serious or even life-threatening health problems.
Barrett’s esophagus, esophageal strictures, erosive esophagitis, and even esophageal cancer can occur if it is not adequately treated. So it is important to seek treatment to help decrease the likelihood of developing serious or life-threatening complications.
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