Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as GERD, is a condition in which the acidic juices in your stomach splash back into your esophagus (“acid reflux”), irritating the esophageal lining. This burning sensation is also called heartburn. Persistent GERD symptoms or new onset of acid reflux symptoms should always be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a GERD specialist or acid reflux doctor for an accurate diagnosis and to exclude other causes. Persistent heartburn symptoms can lead to Barrett’s esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer. Our NYC Gastroenterologists and GERD specialists at our offices commonly evaluate and treat this condition.
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What Is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive dysfunction affecting the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a bundle of muscles between the stomach and the esophagus. There are many people who suffer from symptoms of heartburn or acid indigestion that are caused by GERD. Your esophagus transfers food from your mouth to your stomach. It has two sphincters, one at the top in your throat and one at the bottom where it connects to your stomach.
Normally, the lower esophageal sphincter (or LES) maintains a strong grip, allowing the one-way flow of food into your stomach. If the LES weakens or doesn’t close properly, however, the digestive enzymes and acid in your stomach can escape back up into your esophagus.
Many people experience acid reflux symptoms after eating certain foods. In these instances, over-the-counter medications may work well to temporarily calm the symptoms of GERD, such as a burning throat. Your gastroenterologist or GERD doctor can help diagnose the condition and place you on the correct medication or prescribe lifestyle modification as needed.
What Are the Symptoms of Acid Reflux?
Common symptoms of acid reflux include heartburn and/or acid regurgitation. Heartburn starts as a burning sensation in your chest. It occasionally can rise into your throat, leaving a sour taste in your mouth and a feeling of a burning throat. When you experience this symptom, it’s called acid regurgitation.
Other GERD symptoms involve unexplained chest pain, shortness of breath, chest pain, or radiating arm pain. These can be signs of a heart problem, and you should seek immediate medical attention and call 911. More worrisome symptoms include difficulty swallowing, unexplained weight loss, and blood in the stool and others, which should be immediately evaluated.
Your signs of GERD should be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a physician or GERD specialist in the Upper East Side for an accurate diagnosis and acid reflux treatment plan and to exclude any other conditions. Chronic GERD symptoms can result in Barrett’s esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer and can be diagnosed with an upper endoscopy.
What Causes Acid Reflux and the symptoms of Heartburn?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs when the muscle between your stomach and esophagus (the LES) weakens. There are many causes of acid reflux, most of them are lifestyle-related and include obesity, pregnancy, diabetes, cigarette smoking, asthma, alcohol abuse, and consuming certain foods and beverages such as:
- Carbonated beverages
- Citrus drinks, including juices
- Fatty foods
- Tomato-based products
Another possible cause is the presence of a hiatal hernia, which allows part of your stomach to move past your diaphragm into your chest. Not everyone with a hiatal hernia will experience GERD symptoms, but the hernia makes the disease more likely to occur. Heartburn is a symptom of GERD and is the result of the acid refluxing back into the esophagus.
How Is GERD Diagnosed?
An upper endoscopy allows your gastroenterologist or acid reflux specialist to visually detect any damage to your esophageal lining. If necessary, they can take a tissue biopsy for further testing. Your gastroenterologist will decide based on your consultation if this test will be part of the work-up and if may need additional tests for our acid reflux doctors to make an accurate GERD diagnosis.
During the endoscopy, our heartburn doctors use an endoscope, a small tube with a light at the end, to examine your esophagus and stomach, as well as the upper portion of your small intestine, called the duodenum. pH testing can also be a valuable part of the workup. pH testing allows for us to measure the amount of acid in your esophagus. Our top GERD doctors in NYC can perform this test by either attaching a small sensor in your esophagus during an endoscopy or placing a thin, flexible probe into your esophagus. The probe or sensor transmits its information to a small device you wear on your belt and can provide valuable information.
How to Treat GERD?
Acid reflux symptoms sometimes disappear on their own if you reduce or eliminate certain dietary or lifestyle excesses. In addition to avoiding the foods and beverages listed above, you also can follow these tips to treat your heartburn symptoms:
- Avoid eating within three hours of bedtime
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Prop up the head of your bed four to six inches
- Quit cigarette smoking
Our gastroenterologists encourage you to make an office visit with our heartburn specialist in NYC for an evaluation and examination for an accurate diagnosis and to determine if further evaluation is necessary or to evaluate if screening for barrett’s esophagus is indicated.
Over-the-counter medications decrease acid production in your stomach and are safe and suitable for treating mild cases. Other medications, called proton pump inhibitors, are also effective for treating your symptoms of GERD while helping your body heal. These medications block certain acid production in your stomach. Medication management should be guided by the advice of your gastroenterologist. Advanced endoscopic procedures or surgery are considered for certain cases.
If the GERD doctor Upper East Side recommends surgery, an operation known as fundoplication is an option. This procedure wraps part of your stomach around the lower end of your esophagus to strengthen the barrier between your esophagus and stomach. Other surgical and endoscopic options are also available for difficult-to-treat patients and can be discussed during your consultation.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are GERD Risk Factors?
You are at a higher risk of getting exposed to this medical condition if you:
- Are pregnant
- Have a connective tissue disorder
- Are obese
- Have a hiatal hernia
The disease can be aggravated if you:
- Eat large meals
- Drink alcohol
- Take NSAIDs
- Eat right before going to bed
- Drink a lot of coffee
Are There Any Complications of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?
In the long run, chronic inflammation in your esophagus can lead to the following GERD complications:
- Precancerous changes to the esophagus. Modifications in the tissue lining the lower esophagus can be caused by the damage from acid. These modifications are linked to an increased risk of esophageal cancer.
- An open sore in the esophageal ulcer. The tissue in the esophagus can be worn away by stomach acid, causing an open sore to form. An esophageal ulcer might bleed, leading to severe pain.
- Narrowing of the esophageal stricture. Scar tissue tends to form when there is damage to the lower esophageal from stomach acid.
How To Prevent Acid Reflux and Heartburn?
GERD prevention should start with the implementation of several lifestyle changes, including:
- Avoid lying down after a meal. You should wait at least three hours after a meal before going to bed or lying down.
- Stop smoking. The lower esophageal sphincter’s ability to function properly is decreased if you smoke.
- Keep a healthy weight. Excess weight puts pressure on your abdomen, pushing up your stomach and making acid reflux into your esophagus.
- Chew thoroughly and consume food slowly. As an option, you can put down your fork every time you take a bite and pick it up again only if you have chewed and swallowed that bite.
- Stay away from foods that trigger reflux. Tomato sauce, alcohol, chocolate, garlic, onion, caffeine, and fried foods are among common triggers.
- Do not wear tight-fitting clothes. Clothes that are tight around your waist put excessive pressure on your lower esophageal sphincter and your abdomen.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not definitive medical advice. Please consult a GI doctor about your specific condition. Only trained, experienced gastroenterologists like our GERD doctors can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper heartburn treatment.
As the best-in-class NYC gastroenterologists, our top gerd doctors specialists provide highly personalized and comprehensive care. For more information about the GI conditions we treat, including Heartburn / GERD Treatment, or to schedule a consultation with one of our GI doctors, please contact our Union Square/Chelsea, Midtown, or Upper East Side NYC offices.