Thanksgiving week is here, and millions of Americans will celebrate with friends and family by gorging themselves on traditional holiday fare until they enter what is commonly described as a ‘food coma’. Unfortunately, some of those will end the holiday in less of a festive mood due to a digestive disease called GERD. As Thanksgiving falls in the middle of GERD Awareness Week (November 22-28) this year, it is important to understand this disease and how to keep it from impacting and even ruining your holiday season.
Heartburn is not an uncommon ailment, as it impacts more than 60 million people per month. This burning that occurs in the middle of the chest usually occurs after eating. For some, that discomfort is a much more consistent part of their life that can cause serious discomfort and pain in the esophagus as well. These people suffer from GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease. GERD occurs when acid flows back up into the esophagus and throat from the stomach due to an irregular relaxing of or the weakening of the sphincter. Unfortunately, this stomach acid acts as its name suggests, eating away at the tissue in the esophagus and ultimately leading to throat ulcers, scar tissue accumulation, or in severe cases cancer. Other effects of frequent heartburn or GERD can include nausea, regurgitation, halitosis, and a bitter, acidic taste in the mouth.
GERD can occur for a number of reasons. It can be triggered by some of the foods one chooses to eat like peppermints or chocolates. It can also be aggravated by foods or drinks that are spicy, citric, or ones that include caffeine. Many people experience this discomfort when they eat too much or when they lie down after eating. In fact, some have reported cases of waking up randomly in the middle of the night and gagging, believing they are about to vomit. This sensation occurs because the acid is leaking and creeping back up into the throat in such a way that it causes the body to awaken rapidly. Some people suffer from GERD due to the addition of extra weight around the abdomen, causing an increase in the pressure on the stomach and ultimately forcing acid back up into the esophagus. This can be due to obesity or pregnancy. Lastly, smoking and certain medication can induce this reflux.
There are certain things people suffering with GERD can do to help mitigate or stop the suffering. Lifestyle changes can be difficult but have proven to be instrumental in many cases. After eating, try to stay upright and allow the food to settle in the stomach. Adjusting and increasing the time between dinner and bedtime gives the stomach more time to digest the food before lying down. As obesity can severely impact GERD, moderate exercising and diet have been a key for some. Additionally, over the counter medications can be taken. These medications include proton pump inhibitors, H2 receptor blockers, and antacids. However, any use beyond a couple of weeks should be monitored by a doctor. There are other medications your doctor may prescribe to counteract stomach acid or help the stomach empty faster. If diet changes and medicine don’t prove effective, your doctor may recommend further testing which could lead to surgery.
If you have questions about GERD or are experiencing some of the symptoms, please schedule a visit with us so we can cool the burn of this painful disease.