GERD issues can be solved

By CHERYL WALKER Milam County AgriLife Extension Agent

Gastroesophageal Ref lux Disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease that affects millions of people in the United States. GERD occurs when stomach acid or other digestive juices flow back into your esophagus, the "pipe" that connects your mouth to your stomach.

Though acid reflux and GERD are closely related, they are not necessarily the same disorder. It is when acid ref lux occurs more than twice each week or interferes with your daily life that your health provider may diagnose you with GERD. Also, if you experience severe or frequent GERD symptoms or if you turn to over-the-counter medications for heartburn more than twice per week, contact your health provider.

When you swallow, a small muscle near the bottom of your esophag us, c a lled t he lower esophageal sphincter, opens to allow food and liquid to flow down into your stomach and then closes again. However, if this muscle relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back up into your esophagus, causing heartburn. This acid may irritate the lining of your esophagus and cause it to become inflamed. Over time, the inflammation can erode the esophagus, causing bleeding, trouble breathing and other serious problems.

In addition to acid reflux, symptoms of GERD may include, but are not limited to the following: heartburn, spreading to the throat with a sour taste in your mouth; chest pain; difficulty swallowing; dry cough; hoarseness or sore throat; sensation of a lump in the throat.

Conditions that may increase your risk of GERD include, but are not limited to the following: obesity; hiatal hernia; pregnancy; smoking; dry mouth; asthma; diabetes.

Also, the American College of Gastroenterology recommends the following lifestyle changes that may help control your GERD symptoms:

• Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight puts pressure on your stomach causing acid to back up into your esophagus.

• Avoid tight-fitting clothing. Clothes that fit tightly around your waist put pressure on your abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter.

• Avoid foods that trigger heartburn. Common triggers may include fatty or fried foods, alcohol, chocolate, mint, garlic, onion and caffeine, though triggers will vary for different people.

• Do not lie down after a meal. Wait at least two to three hours after eating before lying down or going to bed.

• Elevate the head of your bed. An elevation of about six to nine inches may reduce acid flow into your esophagus.

• Do not smoke. In addition to the detriment smoking causes to your overall health, it decreases the lower esophageal sphincter's ability to function properly.

You may also access additional information from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health: http://www.niddk.nih. gov. When you get to the website, type in GERD in the search window. You will get a lot of information from this site. If you don't have a computer, come by the Texas AgriLife Extension Service - Milam County office for assistance: 100 E. 1st Street in Cameron.

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2009-06-25 digital edition

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