GERD Basics

Daily Health Solutions, Digestive Health
on September 13, 2011

One bite and you know — that fresh green pepper is just not agreeing with you today. Is that pain and burning in your chest just a little heartburn or something more serious? Familiarize yourself with the GERD basics and know the causes of gastroesophageal reflux disease.

What is GERD? Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder. According to the Mayo Clinic, when stomach acid and bile flow back into the esophagus the acid irritates the esophageal lining, the signs and symptoms known as GERD can occur.

What causes GERD? Frequent acid reflux triggers the onset of GERD, but what causes the acid reflux in the first place? Every time you swallow, the muscle around the esophagus (esophageal sphincter) relaxes to allow food to pass into the stomach for continued digestion. Once the food has passed, the muscle closes up again to prevent stomach acids and food from backing up again. This process, however, does not always go according to plan. Sometimes when the muscle is too relaxed or weakened for some reason, the esophageal sphincter remains open or partially open. This abnormal reaction allows the acids to irritate and inflame the esophagus, causing esophagitis. Over time, the inflammation can actually cause esophageal erosion, causing a variety of complications, such as breathing troubles and bleeding. More serious problems can also arise.

Risk factors for GERD are wide-ranging. GERD symptoms can be tough to predict; however, signs and symptoms are most typical after meals and when lying down. Some people are more predisposed to developing GERD than others. Some conditions may put you at a greater risk of GERD, such as:

  • Hiatal hernia
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • Dry mouth
  • Smoking
  • Connective tissue disorders
  • Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, a rare digestive disorder

GERD is a chronic disorder. While symptoms may abate and seem to disappear at times, GERD frequently comes back periodically and in varying degrees of intensity. The symptoms are usually manageable, and most people can handle the disorder with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications.