Understanding Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
MEDICAL ANIMATION TRANSCRIPT: When you eat, food passes from your mouth into your esophagus, a muscular tube that leads to your stomach. Your esophagus has a ring of muscle at the end called the lower esophageal sphincter. It opens to let food into your stomach. Normally, it stays closed to prevent stomach contents from going back up into your esophagus. If the sphincter doesn't close all the way, gastroesophageal reflux or GER can happen. The weak or relaxed sphincter allows the contents of your stomach to reflux or leak back into your esophagus. Acid in the stomach contents irritates your esophagus. This can cause a painful, burning feeling in your chest called heartburn or acid indigestion. It's common to have gastroesophageal reflux once in a while. However, if it happens more than twice a week for a few weeks, you may have a more serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD. If left untreated, GERD can lead to complications over time. For example, you may develop esophagitis, where the lining of your esophagus becomes inflamed or irritated. Your esophagus may become too narrow, which is a condition called esophageal stricture. GERD may cause you to breathe stomach acid into your lungs. This can lead to respiratory problems such as asthma, chest congestion, hoarseness, wheezing, laryngitis, and pneumonia. GERD can also lead to a condition called Barrett's esophagus. In this condition, the cells lining your lower esophagus are replaced with cells similar to those in your intestine. This may increase your risk for developing cancer in your esophagus. Common causes of GERD include being pregnant, or overweight, which puts pressure on your abdomen, smoking, certain medications such as those that treat allergies, high blood pressure, and depression, and a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia is a condition where the upper part of your stomach moves up through an opening in your diaphragm. This makes it easier for stomach acid to come up into your esophagus. The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. Other symptoms include nausea, problems swallowing, bad breath, hoarseness, sore throat, and bringing food back up called regurgitation. To find out more about gastroesophageal reflux disease, talk to your healthcare provider.