Reflux is a condition in which stomach acids escape from the stomach and flow back up the esophagus. This is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or acid reflux, and it is experienced as the feeling we know commonly as heartburn. If you experience heartburn two or more times a week on a regular basis, you may want to talk to your doctor about treatment options.
When you swallow, food travels down the esophagus to a valve at the top of the stomach which opens to let it pass and then closes. In reflux patients, that valve doesn't close tightly enough. Stomach acid then escapes from the stomach and moves back up (reflux is literally "flowing again") into the esophagus.
The main symptom of reflux disease is a burning sensation just behind the breastbone. Symptoms are most commonly experienced immediately after eating or when you are lying down to sleep at night. Bending forward after eating or eating too much sometimes causes heartburn and an unpleasant burning, sour taste in the back of your throat. This may happen occasionally and does not indicate that you have GERD. With GERD, the reflux lasts longer and happens more often. It is important for patients with reflux to seek treatment before stomach acids permanently damage the esophagus.
To diagnose reflux disease, your doctor may ask you questions and perform a physical exam. In cases where further testing is required, Holland Hospital's advanced diagnostic capabilities help our specialists more precisely determine the cause of GERD.
For many people, prescription medications are often able to manage the symptoms of reflux disease. There are also lifestyle changes that can help patients manage reflux disease symptoms. Patients are often advised to:
- Change eating habits
- Eat several small meals instead of two or three large meals
- Wait two to three hours after eating before lying down to sleep
- Avoid late-night snacks
- Avoid food which contain high levels of natural acids or those that relax the valve between the stomach and the esophagus. These include spicy foods, chocolate, mint, alcohol, tomatoes, oranges, and coffee.
- Quit using tobacco products
- Raise the head of your bed six to eight inches by putting the frame on blocks or placing a foam wedge under the head of your mattress (adding extra pillows does not work)
- Avoid tight clothing
- Lose weight if needed—even five to ten pounds can help
If the above methods fail, pH monitoring with the state of the art Bravo system can help diagnose the underlying cause of your reflux disease. The Bravo System is accurate, noninvasive, comfortable and convenient.
The Bravo System uses a small catheter to attach a tiny capsule to the esophagus wall. The capsule records information about the amount of acid produced by the stomach that flows back up into the esophagus, then it transmits this data to a receiver worn by you. This data helps your gastroenterologist chart the best course of treatment.
If less-invasive measures of treatment prove ineffective, your doctor may recommend surgery. Fundoplication surgery strengthens the valve between the esophagus and the stomach.