Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), commonly known as acid reflux or heartburn, is one of the most common — yet most neglected — diseases in the United States. Our collaborative team of experts, led by Leader Surgical Associates-UPMC, has created a comprehensive program to help diagnose and treat GERD. The Reflux Program will provide a personalized, coordinated plan of care for each patient.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is when stomach contents (often with acid) travel backwards (reflux) up the esophagus, or swallowing tube. This is a normal occurrence to some extent, but becomes a problem when it causes regular symptoms or complications, such as heartburn, regurgitation (bitter taste), a “stuck sensation” in the throat, or chest and abdominal pain.
Uncontrolled GERD can lead to major problems. Acid exposure in the esophagus can cause narrowing, severe inflammation, ulcers, and Barrett’s esophagus. Left untreated, Barrett’s esophagus can even lead to cancer of the esophagus.
A number of factors can lead to GERD. Genetics play a role, and diet and lifestyle factors are major contributors too. Often, there is a problem with the lower esophageal sphincter, a muscle complex where the esophagus turns into the stomach. This can be related to muscle tone, medications, or a total disruption (for example, a hiatal hernia). We get reflux when the lower esophageal sphincter is not working properly.
There are a few tests to diagnose GERD and figure out the best treatment. Some examples include:
The first step in treatment of GERD is lifestyle change. Trigger foods, caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine should be avoided entirely. Timing your meals at least four hours before laying down can help. Some people need to sleep with their mattress on blocks, which allows gravity to fight nighttime symptoms. If you are overweight, even a modest weight loss can really help.
Yes! In conjunction with lifestyle changes, medicine can be very effective. This ranges from short-acting (e.g. Tums) to long-term (e.g. Prilosec). Ask your doctor what may be best for you.
Surgery may be right for you. Here are some examples that can be discussed with your doctor:
Each procedure has its advantages and disadvantages. After you have had a complete set of testing, you will be able to discuss with your doctor what makes the most sense for you.
Many people also don’t realize that anti-reflux surgery may only last 10 to 15 years. This may ultimately result in the need for repeat surgery or resuming a small dose of anti-acid medicine down the line. Your surgeon and the team in the Reflux Program will work with you to minimize your need for revisional surgery or increases in medication.
Thank you for entrusting us with your care. Please don’t hesitate to call if you have any questions: 717-741-3449.
Leader Surgical Associates-UPMC: 717-741-3449
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