Millions of people around the world suffer every day from gastro-esophageal reflux disease. In America, GERD cases requiring hospitalization increased by 216% between 1998 and 2005. Some cases are more severe than others, but it can be helpful to understand how you can treat this unpleasant condition at home with the help of some dietary changes and over-the-counter medications.
What Is GERD?
Gastro-esophageal reflux disease is where acid from the stomach leaks into the esophagus, as defined by the British NHS. It can also be known as acid indigestion, acid reflux, acid regurgitation, heartburn, or simply reflux. This cause irritation and discomfort, as well as an unpleasant taste in the back of the mouth. Some people will ignore it and get on with their lives if it happens sparingly and isn’t particularly painful. However, it is possible that symptoms occurring frequently, like acid reflux, are indicative of a larger problem.
If you’re experiencing GERD, or acid reflux, there are a few things you can try if it is not a serious problem. This typically means the reflux is only happening occasionally; if it is occurring more frequently than this, you should see your doctor. Florida Hospital states pregnant women are also more at risk, with 25% of them experiencing acid reflux, and nearly 50% of these women experiencing it during the third trimester. Self-help measures are usually advised when the reflux is not serious, and can improve the condition. This includes eating smaller meals more frequently, instead of having three larger meals during the day.
You can also avoid foods or drinks that you’ve noticed trigger your reflux. This includes daily drinks like coffee, which is acidic. However, if you need to have a cup of coffee to wake up or be productive, you should look into ways to get your caffeine fix while avoiding GERD. There are a few ways to still have coffee, for example. Low acid coffees exist, and dark roasting also helps lower the acid level.
Medicines available at a pharmacy are also an option; they are recommended by the pharmacist if you ask for help. They can be bought without a prescription. This is usually an antacid or an alginate.
If none of this helps, then it is very likely that you’ll have to take stronger medications like Proton Pump Inhibitors. For PPIs, you will need a prescription from a doctor. Prokinetics are also available, but you will need a doctor’s prescription for these too. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says these two medicines also have side effects, that include nausea, fatigue, anxiety, depression and diarrhea. You must tell you doctor if you’re taking other medication as PPIs and Prokinetics can cause problems if mixed with other medications.
Serious Complications of GERD
If your acid reflux isn’t treated, or it is a serious case, it can lead to further health problems. This includes diseases like esophageal cancer, which can form when cells lining the esophagus change.
As well as this, the esophagus can become narrow and scarred, making swallowing difficult. This may need to be operated on to correct it. 15% of all adults with GERD symptoms have Barrett’s esophagus (Guili et al, 2003). Esophageal cancer can develop from Barrett’s esophagus, which is a condition where the cells in the esophagus begin to look like cells in the intestine.