Acid reflux disease, also known as gastro-esophageal reflux disease, or GERD, occurs due to the coexistence of two medical conditions. The first acid reflux disease contributing condition is a retrograde flow of stomach contents into the esophagus. However, the reflux itself does not necessarily lead to gastro-esophageal reflux disease symptoms or histologic changes, and can occur among healthy individuals as well. In this case, the process is referred to as “physiologic gastroesophageal reflux”.
The second acid reflux disease predisposing condition is a lower esophageal sphincter (LES) malfunction. The LES is a 3-cm to 4-cm ring of muscle, which is two to three times thicker than the proximal esophagus and acts as a valve between the esophagus and the stomach. In the case of acid reflux disease, the LES does not close perfectly and stomach contents splashes up into the esophagus. When pathologic symptoms follow this process, the whole condition is called acid reflux disease.
Gastro-esophageal reflux disease is usually experienced as a persistent (at least twice a week) heartburn. Heartburn is the burning sensation in the chest or throat, caused by refluxed stomach contents touching the lining of the esophagus. Since healthy individuals may also experience light reflux – occasional heartburn is common as well, and doesn’t necessarily serve as an evidence of GERD.
Some GERD sufferers may also experience pain in the chest, cough, morning hoarseness, voice changes, difficulty swallowing (especially lumpy foods), chronic earache, burning chest pains, nausea or sinusitis. Some patients report a sensation that reminds food stuck, choking or tightness in the throat. This happens due to continuous stomach contents acid flow that comes into contact with the esophagus and causes inflammation of the esophagus resulting in scars from tissue damage.
Untreated acid reflux disease can lead to serious health complications. Those include stricture formation, bleeding, ulcers and esophageal spasms. When the stomach acid reaches the upper esophagus and trachea, the process can result in a variety of severe conditions, such as asthma, sinusitis and pneumonia. Finally, some people may develop Barrett’s esophagus, a condition that manifest in an abnormal shape and color of cells in the esophageal lining. This condition is a precursor to esophageal cancer, especially in adults over 60 years old.
The most common symptom of GERD is persistent heartburn. Heartburn is experienced as an unpleasant and painful burning sensation in the esophageal area. Other typical symptoms are as follows:
- Gastric regurgitation, which means an unrestricted reversed flow of gastric or esophageal contents into the throat. This gastric fluid can cause respiratory complications under certain conditions.
- Odynophagia, which means pain when swallowing.
- Dysphagia, which means difficulty swallowing, or the feeling of food stuck in the throat.
In addition to the above, about 50% of all gastroesophageal reflux disease sufferers report the co-occurrence of sinonasal symptoms (i. e. symptoms pertaining to the nose and sinuses).
The treatment of gastro-esophageal reflux disease takes three forms: surgery, medical therapy and holistic therapy, including dietary and lifestyle changes and the intake of specific herbal supplements. An undergoing surgery should be considered very carefully, since it can compound some underlying conditions, such as stricture and motility disorders. Medical treatment of GERD includes PPIs and H2 blockers. While acid reflux can be treated by taking prescription medications or acid blockers such as the above, bear in mind that the results may be temporary and that some conventional medications can cause serious side effects.
From a holistic point of view, acid reflux disease is considered a warning sign of a major internal imbalance that needs to be properly addressed. Therefore, alternative remedies, such as homeopathic remedies, herbal remedies, lifestyle changes as part of a complete holistic regimen are strongly recommended for acid reflux sufferers.