What is Acid Reflux or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, gastric reflux disease, or acid reflux disease is a chronic symptom of mucosal damage caused by stomach acid coming up from the stomach into the esophagus.
GERD is usually caused by changes in the barrier between the stomach and the esophagus, including abnormal relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter, which normally holds the top of the stomach closed, impaired expulsion of gastric reflux from the esophagus, or a hiatal hernia. These changes may be permanent or temporary.
Treatment is typically via lifestyle changes and medications such as proton pump inhibitors, H2 receptor blockers or antacids with or without alginic acid. Surgery may be an option in those who do not improve. In the Western world between 10 and 20% of the population is affected.
Signs and symptoms
The most-common symptoms of GERD are:
Less-common symptoms include:
Pain with swallowing/sore throat (odynophagia)
Increased salivation (also known as water brash)
GERD sometimes causes injury of the esophagus. These injuries may include:
Reflux esophagitis – necrosis of esophageal epithelium causing ulcers near the junction of the stomach and esophagus
Esophageal strictures – the persistent narrowing of the esophagus caused by reflux-induced inflammation
Barrett's esophagus – intestinal metaplasia (changes of the epithelial cells from squamous to intestinal columnar epithelium) of the distal esophagus
Esophageal adenocarcinoma – a rare form of cancer
GERD may be difficult to detect in infants and children, since they cannot describe what they are feeling and indicators must be observed. Symptoms may vary from typical adult symptoms. GERD in children may cause repeated vomiting, effortless spitting up, coughing, and other respiratory problems, such as wheezing.
Inconsolable crying, refusing food, crying for food and then pulling off the bottle or breast only to cry for it again, failure to gain adequate weight, bad breath, and belching or burping are also common. Children may have one symptom or many; no single symptom is universal in all children with GERD.
Of the estimated 4 million babies born in the US each year, up to 35% of them may have difficulties with reflux in the first few months of their lives, known as 'spitting up'.
Most children will outgrow their reflux by their first birthday. However, a small but significant number of them will not outgrow the condition. This is particularly true when a family history of GERD is present.
The diagnosis of GERD is usually made when typical symptoms are present. Reflux can be present in people without symptoms and the diagnosis requires both symptoms or complications and reflux of stomach content.
Other investigations may include esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD). Barium swallow X-rays should not be used for diagnosis. Esophageal manometry is not recommended for use in diagnosis being recommended only prior to surgery. Ambulatory esophageal pH monitoring may be useful in those who do not improve after PPIs and is not needed in those in whom Barrett's esophagus is seen.
The current gold standard for diagnosis of GERD is esophageal pH monitoring. It is the most objective test to diagnose the reflux disease and allows monitoring GERD patients in their response to medical or surgical treatment.
One practice for diagnosis of GERD is a short-term treatment with proton-pump inhibitors, with improvement in symptoms suggesting a positive diagnosis. Short-term treatment with proton-pump inhibitors may help predict abnormal 24-hr pH monitoring results among patients with symptoms suggestive of GERD.
The treatments for GERD include lifestyle modifications, medications, and possibly surgery. Initial treatment is frequently with a proton-pump inhibitor such as omeprazole.