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November 27, 2012 > Treating GERD - More Than Just a Matter of Relieving Heartburn

Treating GERD - More Than Just a Matter of Relieving Heartburn

Last week was the 14th Annual GERD Awareness Week - an opportunity to encourage everyone who may be suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) to learn more about the condition and seek medical attention, if needed.

A recent study by the Gallup Organization estimates between 25 percent and 40 percent of Americans have GERD - a more serious form of heartburn, which is also called acid indigestion or acid reflux. The Gallup study estimated that up to 10 percent of Americans have symptoms of GERD on a daily basis.

"Heartburn is an uncomfortable, burning sensation in the chest, and if you experience it occasionally, it's not a cause for concern," said Mary S. Maish, M.D., chief of thoracic and foregut surgery for Washington Township Medical Foundation and a member of the medical staff at Washington Hospital. "However, if you have more serious and frequent symptoms, such as heartburn that occurs more than twice a week, you should learn what to do because GERD can lead to more serious health problems."

GERD is a group of symptoms. Besides heartburn, it can include a range of other problems like regurgitation, bloating, or an acidic taste in the back of the mouth. If you have GERD, you may experience nausea, chronic ear infections, frequent cough, recurrent pneumonia or hoarseness. You can also have problems with your mouth and teeth, such as dental decay or bad breath.

The most frequent cause of GERD is obesity. Stress can also be a factor. Other possible contributors are:
* Medication that causes your stomach to empty more slowly
* Hiatal hernia, when the upper part of the stomach rises up inside the chest. This allows air to be trapped in a very tight space under the breastbone causing a pressure sensation.
* Irritable bowel syndrome
* Anxiety-related problems, like panic disorder

There are four diagnostic tests to help confirm that your symptoms are truly GERD.

"Unfortunately, none of these tests is very comfortable for patients," observed Dr. Maish, "But, together, they give us the best picture of what's happening and why. This helps us develop the best treatment plan."

One test called a barium swallow gives a good picture of the anatomy of your esophagus and how it is functioning. A second test, called an upper endoscopy, enables the physician to see the inside lining of your esophagus and look for abnormalities. A test called manometry checks the pressure in your esophagus while you are swallowing liquids or semisolids. This helps the physician determine how well the esophagus and the valve between the esophagus and the stomach are functioning. Finally, pH monitoring measures how much acid and non-acid reflux material comes into your esophagus. The test is done over a period of one or two days while you go about your normal activities.

"Depending on what we learn from these tests, there is a range of treatment options," added Dr. Maish.

If no abnormalities are found, you can take drugs called H2 blockers or proton pump inhibitors. H2 blockers, available by prescription or over-the-counter, decrease the acid production in the digestive tract. Proton pump inhibitors, available by prescription only, relieve acid reflux symptoms and also help to heal the lining of the esophagus.

"If the tests show anatomic or functional problems or if there is a hiatal hernia, you may need surgery," advised Dr. Maish. "With minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, we can prevent reflux from coming back into the esophagus and relieve the symptoms of GERD."

"If you have recurring symptoms of GERD and don't get diagnosed and treated, the outcome can be very serious," warned Dr. Maish.

If reflux continues untreated, it can lead to inflammation of the esophagus, and this can cause scarring and narrowing. Ongoing reflux can also result in Barrett's syndrome, increasing your chances of getting cancer of the esophagus.

"If we determine that surgery is the best option for a patient, we can restore the barriers that contribute to GERD and stop the disease from progressing," explained Dr. Maish. "More than just relieving symptoms, we want to help you avoid serious problems down the road."

Got GERD? Heartburn Relief is Here!

If you or someone you know has GERD symptoms, call the Washington Township Medical Foundation at (510) 248-1400 to schedule a free 15 minute consultation with our nurse practitioner. To learn more about diagnostic testing and treatment options for GERD, visit Washington Township Medical Foundation online at

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