what is gerd

It’s perfectly normal to experience heartburn from time to time — especially after eating a hefty meal or spicy foods. But heartburn more than twice a week could mean something more serious.

Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the ring of muscles between the esophagus and stomach.

If you have GERD, these muscles become weak and the sphincter cannot function properly, allowing acid or stomach juices to leak, or reflux, back into your esophagus. This can be uncomfortable and cause a burning sensation in your chest and throat.

Treatment may vary depending on the severity of the disease. James D. Luketich, MD, chair of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery at UPMC, says patients can consider several treatment options for GERD.

Treating GERD with Diet and Lifestyle Changes

“The first treatment for everyone is looking closely at your lifestyle, what things lead to reflux and what things aggravate your reflux. Sometimes it is as simple as dietary changes,” says Dr. Luketich.

The first step is avoiding foods that weaken your LES. If you have GERD, you should stay away from the following:

In addition to your diet, simple lifestyle changes can also help relieve GERD. Being overweight can increase reflux, so losing weight and exercising are important steps. Eating slower and smaller portions can also help reduce your GERD symptoms. Learn more about the right diet for GERD.

If you have GERD, you should avoid alcohol and tobacco as these products weaken or relax the sphincter.

Medications for GERD

If diet and lifestyle changes do not work, you may look to certain medicines to treat GERD. Over-the-counter medications, such as antacids, can help reduce the painful burning in your chest and throat, but if you find yourself taking antacids for more than two weeks, you should talk with your doctor.

Surgery for GERD

For some people, lifestyle changes and medications are not enough, and the final solution may be surgery.

One of the newest surgical options for treating GERD is minimally invasive surgery, a procedure that uses tiny incisions and typically only requires an overnight stay in the hospital.

When facing surgery, it is important to talk to your doctor and choose the option that is best for you.

“You might need help making the decision to have surgery. Perhaps with some changes we can avoid surgery, but if it is necessary you want to have it in a place that is extremely experienced,” says Dr. Luketich.

Diet and lifestyle changes, medications, and sometimes even surgery are all possible options for treating GERD. If you have GERD, it is important to speak to your doctor to develop a treatment plan that best fits you and your needs.