What Is It?
When you eat, food travels from your mouth down the esophagus
to your stomach. The food must pass a one-way valve called the
lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the opening into your stomach.
The LES opens when you swallow, allows food to enter your stomach,
then closes quickly. With GERD, the LES may not work normally
and allows food and stomach acid to travel back (reflux) into
the esophagus. The acid can travel backward as far as your throat.
Eating certain foods and taking certain medications can add to
the problem. Additionally, smoking, caffeine, and alcohol all
increase the level of acid in your stomach and can make your symptoms
worse. Sometimes the LES opening is weakened or enlarged (hiatus)
in the diaphragm which allows the stomach to bulge into the chest
cavity. This is called a hiatal hernia and you can have one without
How GERD May Progress
Exposing tissue in the esophagus to stomach acid over a long period
of time can lead to inflammation, ulcers, and scarring (called
a stricture). Individuals with severe GERD may have difficulty
swallowing (called dysphagia), and often have the sensation that
food is stuck in their throat. GERD may also increase the risk
of cancer of the esophagus.
The symptoms of GERD may include:
- A burning feeling in the chest (heartburn)
- A bitter or sour taste in the back of the mouth
- Worsening of the above symptoms when bending over or lying
- Chronic cough and hoarseness
Your physician or our surgeon may perform a thorough physical
exam or put you through endoscopic swallowing tests to help determine
if there are any problems. These type tests allow the physician
to rule out problems such as ulcers. You may also be given a barium
upper GI series of x-ray films which monitors barium dye that
you swallow to catch any reflux action on film. The x-ray may
also show whether or not you have a hiatal hernia. If surgery is a possibility,
you may undergo an esophageal manometry to measure the muscle
tone of the LES. Also, you may under go a pH monitoring test,
which measures the amount of acid that washes back from your stomach
into your esophagus.
Simple life style changes, such exercising to lose excess weight,
can often go a long way to reduce the symptoms of GERD. Sleeping
with the head of your bed raised may also help reduce symptoms.
Other simple actions such as smoking and alcohol cessation can
help reduce symptoms.
GERD is sometimes treated with over-the-counter antacids to neutralize
stomach acid and can be purchased without a prescription. Your
physician may prescribe stronger medications. These medications
are called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and suppress most
of the stomach's acid production.
If you have a stricture in your esophagus, your physician may
dilate your esophagus. You will receive a sedative to keep you
comfortable and free from pain. A lubricated dilator or a balloon
is inserted into the esophagus and filled with water or air to
stretch your esophagus's width enough to pass solid food.
When surgery becomes the primary option, it can be performed
either using a laparoscopic or open technique. Your physical condition
may dictate which technique will be taken. In either case, the
surgeon will tighten the hiatal opening with stitches. Next, the
top of the stomach will be wrapped around the outside of the esophagus.
This added support will help prevent reflux. To make sure the
wrap is not too tight the surgeon may temporarily insert a rubber
tube into your esophagus. Finally the wrap is permanently stitched
The most common risks and complications associated with a lapaorscopic
- Injury to the liver, spleen, esophagus, or stomach during
- Increased gas or bloating
- Difficulty swallowing
- Failure to completely eliminate GERD