If you suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, you are probably very familiar with its symptoms. They include heartburn, frequent throat clearing, dry cough, water brash, and a bad taste in the mouth. In addition, GERD can cause a globus sensation, or the feeling as though you have a lump in your throat, difficulty swallowing, esophageal spasms, and chest pain.
Severe GERD needs to be managed and monitored by your physician with medication and possible surgical intervention. Here are some risk factors for GERD and what you can do to lower your risk for esophageal damage.
Being overweight is one of the most significant risk factors in the development of GERD. Excess abdominal fat places pressure on your stomach, and if your lower esophageal sphincter valve, or LES is weak, irritating stomach acid can migrate up into your upper digestive tract. Obesity can also raise your risk for a hernia, which can also weaken your LES valve, raising your risk for GERD.
Weight loss will dramatically improve your symptoms, however, if you are unable to lose weight on your own, talk to your physician about effective weight management strategies such as eating a low carbohydrate and high protein diet.
Moderate exercise will also help your lose weight, as will drinking plenty of water every day to help quell cravings. While taking in more calories than you expend is the major cause for weight gain, certain medications and medical disorders can also lead to excess weight and subsequent GERD, including the following:
- Beta Blockers
- Psychotropic Medications
- Renal Disease (Fluid Retention)
- Congestive Heart Failure (Fluid Retention)
If you gain weight because of the above factors, talk to your doctor. A dosage reduction may help slow weight gain if you take antihistamines, beta blockers, corticosteroids, or psychotropic medications, while diuretics may help prevent excess weight related to fluid retention.
Also, if you have hypothyroidism, thyroid hormone replacement therapy can help normalize your metabolism so that weight gain is less of a problem.
These interventions may help you lose excess weight so that your GERD symptoms will improve. It is important to note, that while the above medications can contribute to the excess weight gain that can cause GERD, they may also be independent risk factors for GERD because they can weaken the LES valve.
If you have been diagnosed with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, you may be at a heightened risk for developing GERD. While GERD can develop in people with long-standing celiac disease, it is more common in those who have been recently diagnosed. If you have celiac disease, eating a gluten-free diet may improve your symptoms.
The connection between GERD and celiac disease is not fully understood, however, it is thought that either eating gluten causes symptoms of GERD or that GERD is simply a condition that is associated with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.
In addition to celiac disease, other medical conditions may also raise your risk for GERD, including:
- Autoimmune Disorders such as Scleroderma
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
While the above health conditions can raise your risk for GERD, simply having these diseases does not guarantee that you will get it. If you develop heartburn or any other symptoms associated with acid reflux disease, see your doctor as soon as possible for further evaluation and treatment.
Those with long-standing GERD are often diagnosed with Barrett’s Esophagus, a chronic regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the lower esophagus. Long-standing or untreated GERD can raise your risk for digestive complications and even cause cellular changes of your esophagus, so it is essential that you get treated as soon as possible.
If medication management is not working for you and/or your GERD is getting worse, surgery may be for you. At The Surgical Clinic we have multiple surgical options for GERD. Every patient is unique and an evaluation with one of our GERD specialists is the first step to determining your best treatment option.