About one in eight Kentuckians suffers severe bouts of heartburn at least twice a week. Unfortunately, smoking, overeating, and being overweight—common habits among Kentuckians—can make heartburn worse.
Patients usually complain of serious heartburn before being diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which results when a muscle in the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), becomes ineffective.
This abnormality allows stomach content, including digestive acid, to move up into the esophagus, causing pain and injury to the area.
“Patients complain about a burning pain in the chest, the throat, or the upper abdomen,” says Nicholas J. Nickl, M.D., professor in the Division of Gastroenterology, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine. “Among those with regular or recurrent heartburn, permanent injury to the esophagus can result.”
Ways to reduce acid reflux
For most sufferers, simple lifestyle and dietary changes, such as avoiding food or beverages that aggravate the problem, can help alleviate the discomfort. But for others, medication and sometimes surgery is necessary.
Lifestyle changes that can help decrease symptoms include:
• Avoiding foods and beverages that can decrease the muscle tone of the LES. These include chocolate, peppermint, fatty foods, coffee, and alcoholic beverages
• Decrease the size of portions at mealtime
• Avoid lying down for two to three hours after eating
• Stop smoking: cigarette smoking weakens the esophageal sphincter
• Lose weight if overweight
More than 60 million American adults experience reflux and heartburn at least once a month, and approximately 21 million adults are estimated to have GERD. People who are not treated for the disease continue to have symptoms and may experience complications such as ulcers or, in rare cases, cancer.
Medicine or surgery?
“Patients suffering from acid reflux also have options of either daily medication therapy to prevent the formation of stomach acid or surgical anti-reflux procedures,” Nickl says.
“Patients often do not want to take medication daily and for many, even new minimally invasive surgical techniques are not acceptable. Newer endoscopy treatments have recently been introduced, and are being used in many advanced endoscopy centers such as the University of Kentucky. These new techniques provide exciting options for treatment of this common and potentially serious condition.” For more information, call (859) 257-3401.