Nearly everyone has felt the boiling sensation in the stomach and throat after a big meal. Most of the time the symptoms can be traced to the overindulgence and pass without concern in an hour or so often aided by downing an over-the-counter antacid. Changes in diet, losing weight, avoiding alcohol and smoking, and bypassing that post-meal nap for at least three hours could be simple home remedies to alleviate the fire.
Got GERD? That might be more serious. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can make swallowing difficult and lead to chronic soreness in the throat and chest. Untreated, GERD destroys the lining of the esophagus over time and stifles the esophageal sphincter flap, which helps keep stomach acid out of the throat area. In some cases, GERD can lead to cancer of the esophagus. Hiatal hernia, in which the stomach pushes up into the chest area, also causes acid reflux.
Advancements in surgical techniques, like robotics and high resolution three-dimensional tests, along with numerous medications, can treat and cure the condition before it leads to cancer. But its estimated that 25 percent of the U.S. population suffers from GERD and the problem is growing.
On the run
Obesity is a significant risk and America is becoming more obese. Our lifestyles are more on the run, eating later at night and eating more when we go out to eat. Those are risk factors for acid reflux, says Dr. Pamela Garjian, subsection chief of endoscopy for Baptist Health in Miami.
An aging population also accounts for GERD cases, says Dr. Jamie Barkin, chief of gastroenterology at Mount Sinai and professor of medicine at the University of Miami.
They are taking medications that affect the esophagus, Barkin said, citing common arthritis pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen, and bisphosphonates like Fosomax for osteoporosis.
This condition is known as pill-induced esophagitis, Barkin said, and it impacts all age groups.
Women who are anemic during their reproductive years often take iron supplements, as do teens who seek acne treatment. Athletes also seek relief with pain meds after a hard workout. All of these folks can experience acid reflux because of the drugs and supplements.
They really beat up the esophagus, Barkin said. The message is, if youre having symptoms, youve got to tell your physician what pills you are taking.
Normally, when food is consumed, it slides down the esophagus and into the stomach, where acids break it down so it can be digested. The lower esophageal sphincter muscle at the stomach entrance, a flap valve, is supposed to act as a gate and close after the food passes through to keep stomach acid away from the tender esophagus. When this system goes awry, acid boils up from the stomach into the throat a classic case of heartburn, that hot sensation centering around the breastbone and radiating toward the throat.
Some people mistake chest pains caused by weaknesses in the muscle walls of the esophagus for heart attack symptoms, as was the case with former University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer. He was ultimately diagnosed as suffering from esophageal spasms, which caused the pain, and difficulty in swallowing and regurgitation, said Dr. Baharak Moshiree, associate professor of medicine at the University of Miami.