GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a digestive disorder that can sometimes be treated with over-the-counter and prescription medications. In severe cases, general surgery is the recommended treatment.
GERD affects the ring of muscle that exists between your esophagus and stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter or LES becomes weakened to the degree that stomach acid flows backward into the esophagus. This can lead to a range of symptoms, including acid indigestion or heartburn.
What Causes GERD?
The LES is meant to allow the passage of food from the esophagus into the stomach. When the LES becomes weakened, the contents of your stomach are no longer restricted from entering your food tube. Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when the LES is weak or when the sphincter relaxes at odd times. The result is stomach acid flowing backward into the esophagus.
Who is Most at Risk for GERD?
Heartburn is a common condition that affects an estimated sixty million Americans each month. More than fifteen million adults experience heartburn daily, especially pregnant women. Even infants and children can experience GERD, and it often goes undiagnosed. In kids, GERD can present itself as excessive coughing and vomiting, as well as breathing problems.
The most common cause of GERD symptoms is a hiatal hernia. This is when the upper portion of the stomach moves into the chest cavity through an opening in your diaphragm known as a hiatus. The diaphragm is the muscle wall that separates your abdomen from your chest.
When you have a hiatal hernia, heartburn can result, but not always. However, having a hiatal hernia makes it easier for stomach contents to find their way into your esophagus.
Putting sudden exertion on your belly, such as through trauma or while straining, can cause a hiatal hernia. Lifting heavy weights and excessive coughing and vomiting can also cause the condition.
Other risk factors for GERD include obesity, pregnancy, delayed stomach emptying, and connective tissue disease.
Some diet and lifestyle choices can make you more likely to suffer from GERD, including smoking, eating foods high in fat, drinking alcohol, and eating excessively large meals. Eating too soon before bed and taking medications like aspirin can also lead to GERD.
What are a Few Symptoms of GERD?
The most common symptom of GERD is acid indigestion, also referred to as heartburn. If you’ve never had heartburn, it feels like a burning sensation in your chest that begins behind your breastbone and moves up through your neck and throat. Many people say it feels like food regurgitating back into your mouth, leaving an acidic and bitter taste behind.
Heartburn symptoms, including burning pain and pressure, can last for up to two hours. The symptoms usually become worse after a meal. Lying down or bending over can exacerbate the condition.
Many people who experience frequent heartburns find that standing up sometimes clears the acid out of the esophagus. Over-the-counter medications such as antacids can also help.
The pain of heartburn can sometimes act like a heart attack. You can tell the difference between heartburn and heart disease or a heart attack by performing a simple test. Exercise is likely to make heart attack pain worse while fitness levels should have no effect on heartburn.
If you can’t tell the difference, seek medical help immediately. It is better to be sent home from the emergency room with an antacid tablet and be wrong than to wait out a heart attack and do nothing, which could be fatal.
Aside from pressure and pain, GERD can also cause nausea, breathing trouble, swallowing difficulties, vomiting, bad breath, tooth enamel wear, and a lump in your throat that will not subside.
Nighttime GERD can often be accompanied by laryngitis, a lingering cough, sleep problems, and asthma that comes on suddenly or steadily becomes worse.
How is GERD Diagnosed?
At Healthy Life Bariatrics, Dr. Moeinolmolki can provide you with an official diagnosis for GERD during an initial consultation. The testing protocols for GERD diagnosis consist of endoscopy (a small camera that looks inside your esophagus for inflammation), upper GI series X-rays, esophageal manometry (checks for pressure inside the esophagus), and pH testing (to determine acid levels inside the esophagus).
If GERD is diagnosed, you could be a good candidate for surgery.
How is Surgery for GERD Performed?
Surgery for GERD is usually recommended as a last resort when even prescription medications won’t help the heartburn go away.
The most common procedure for GERD correction is fundoplication. This is a procedure that increases the pressure in your lower esophagus. During the surgery, Dr. Moein winds the top portion of your stomach around the LES. This acts as a tightener for the sphincter muscle, allowing it to constrict when it’s supposed to. A tighter LES raises the pressure in your lower esophagus, which prevents future instances of reflux. The surgeon performs a laparoscopic surgery, which is minimally invasive and involves tiny incisions, small scars, and a short recovery time.
What are the Benefits of General Surgery for GERD?
The main benefit of GERD surgery is that you won’t experience heartburn or any of the accompanying symptoms like shortness of breath.
Repairing the source of GERD, such as a hiatal hernia, can also help to prevent further complications. Severe complications of GERD can include esophageal ulcers, esophageal stricture (where stomach acid damages your lower esophagus, leading to scar tissue), and lung problems.
Barrett’s esophagus can also result, which is where the acid reflux alters the cells that line your esophagus, which can make you more susceptible to esophageal cancer.
Ready to Discuss Surgical Treatment for Heartburn and GERD?
If you have had enough of living with GERD symptoms, surgery can help. Dr. Babak Moeinolmolki and his compassionate surgical team look forward to treating you. If you live in Los Angeles, Encino, or Glendale, California, call today to schedule a consultation with world-class general surgeon Dr. Moeinolmolki – (310)694-4486.