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Living with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

image of man having a dose of heartburn after a mealGastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, involves chronic symptoms including heartburn, dry cough, regurgitation and problems swallowing. Although GERD is often a lifelong condition, it is sometimes possible to reduce symptoms by avoiding certain foods and making lifestyle changes. If these measures fail to control GERD symptoms, patients can visit Dr. Cofrancesco at GI North to find out whether they are eligible for surgery to correct the condition. Here’s a deeper look at GERD, its symptoms and complications, lifestyle changes that can improve it and the surgery used to fix it.

GERD Explained
Gastroesophageal reflux disease GERD is the name given to chronic symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux, which is experienced occasionally by many people. GERD involves reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus due to opening of a dysfunctional lower esophageal sphincter. Acid may travel only to the lower esophagus, causing heartburn, but it can also reach the upper esophagus, where it may enter the mouth, causing dental erosion and bad breath, or it can be inhaled into the lungs, resulting in breathing problems. Over time, chronic acid reflux can cause ulceration of the esophagus, spur the development of Barrett’s Esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition, and cause esophageal cancer. Tobacco use, obesity, and pregnancy can all cause GERD, and certain foods can worsen it. Due to the risk of long-term complications, patients with GERD should seek medical supervision to watch for progression of the disease and start treatment early if cancer develops.

Living with GERD
Making key lifestyle changes and avoiding certain foods may improve GERD symptoms for some patients. Some of the foods that commonly worsen GERD are spicy foods, nightshade vegetables, garlic, mint and chocolate. Usage of tobacco, alcohol and caffeine can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax and result in acid reflux. Patients should allow several hours for digestion of food before going to bed, and some may benefit from raising the head of their bed several inches. Wearing tight clothing and eating large meals should both be avoided. Many patients benefit from over-the-counter medications for GERD, including calcium carbonate antacids, such as Tums, proton-pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec, foaming agents, such as Gaviscon, and prokinetics, such as Reglan.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease GERD Treatment at GI North
Patients with severe GERD symptoms should consider treatment at GI North. Our clinic offers fundoplication, a procedure that can relieve patients from having to suffer with GERD for a lifetime. Nissen fundoplication, the specific type of this procedure normally used to fix GERD, involves wrapping the top of the stomach around the lower esophageal sphincter to prevent acid and stomach contents from refluxing into the esophagus. In many cases, this can be accomplished with a laparoscope through a very small incision. Recovery takes only one to three days in the hospital and two to three weeks out of work.

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