By| Published: June 8th, 2016
Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are not the same thing. Acid reflux is the backing up of stomach acid through the lower oesophageal junction (where the oesophagus and stomach meet), while GERD is a disease state of which acid reflux is a part. Though these terms are often used interchangeably, they actually have very different meanings. GERD is the chronic and more severe form of acid reflux. Heartburn is a symptom of both.
What is Heartburn?
The oesophageal lining is more delicate than that of the stomach, which is why acid in the oesophagus causes a burning sensation in the chest. This sensation is referred to as heartburn and is often mistaken for the pain associated with a heart attack. If the discomfort and chest pain gets worse and is accompanied by difficulty breathing or pain in the arm or jaw, it could be a heart attack.
What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux is a normal part of digestion and movement along the gastrointestinal tract at low levels. Though it can trigger symptoms such as heartburn, it is not considered to be a disease. It is a very common medical condition that may or may not be serious.
What causes Acid Reflux?
The lower oesophageal sphincter (LES) is a circular muscle that lies between the oesophagus and stomach. It is responsible for closing the oesophagus after food passes to the stomach. If this muscle is weak or does not close properly, the acid from the stomach can move backward into the oesophagus, which causes acid reflux.
How can Acid Reflux be controlled?
Avoiding foods that trigger acid reflux is recommended to provide symptomatic relief. These include, but are not limited to fatty foods, fried foods, coffee, chocolate, peppermint, etc.
What is GERD?
GERD is characterized by an abnormal frequency or amount of reflux, which can result in frequent heartburn, hoarseness, chest pain, and rarely asthma. Other signs and symptoms may include regurgitation of food or sour liquid, difficulty swallowing, dry coughing and wheezing— especially while lying down at night. The disease may also be associated with Barrett’s oesophagus and oesophageal cancer.
Untreated GERD can cause bleeding, scarring and ulcers. This is because the acid can change the oesophageal cells over time. While Barrett’s oesophagus increases the risk of oesophageal cancer, it is extremely rare, even in people with Barrett’s.
How can GERD be controlled?
Lifestyle changes can help control even occasional acid reflux. Apart from avoiding the aforementioned foods that cause acid reflux, losing excess weight and eating smaller meals as well as avoiding alcohol and nicotine may also help.
Not all heartburn requires medical care. Antacids and lifestyle changes can treat infrequent and mild heartburn. Mild reflux is also not a cause for concern. However, if you suffer from heartburn two or more times a week and over-the-counter (OTC) medications are not providing any relief, you must consult a doctor.