If you suffer from gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, you are probably very familiar with its symptoms. They include more than occasional heartburn, frequent throat clearing, dry cough, water brash, and a bad taste in the mouth. Also, GERD can cause the feeling of a lump in your throat, difficulty swallowing, esophageal spasms, and chest pain. This is caused by your acidic stomach contents escaping back up your esophagus. Several risk factors can cause this.
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 GERD risk factors. Excess abdominal fat places pressure on your stomach. If your lower esophageal sphincter valve or LES is weak, irritating stomach acid can migrate up into your upper digestive tract. When this happens, it irritates the lining of the esophagus which causes most symptoms.
Obesity can also raise your risk for a hiatal hernia. Hernias can also weaken your LES valve and raise the 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 you 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 may have 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.
Symptoms of Celiac Disease
Celiac symptoms are caused when gluten enters the digestive system. Because this is an autoimmune disease and the body cannot effectively digest gluten, it attacks itself instead. Usually, the immune system reacts in the lower intestine where the body absorbs nutrients. This allergic reaction is what causes the pain and discomfort associated with celiac disease.
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 associated with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. For the sake of definition, gluten is a protein found in wheat.
People sometimes develop an intolerance to gluten, which causes gassiness, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. People with celiac disease may also develop a recurring rash that causes bumps and blisters. Medically, this condition is called dermatitis herpetiformis. If you are experiencing these common symptoms, talk with your doctor about getting tested for celiac disease.
Additional Risk Factors
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. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) shares that untreated GERD can also lead to respiratory problems. Long term 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.
Seeking Surgical Treatment
If medication management is not working for you and/or your GERD is getting worse, surgical treatment 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. Visit our online GERD center to learn more about your symptoms and treatment.