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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

It is obvious from the number of ads for heartburn that Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a major health concern today. GERD is a disorder which occurs when the sphincter muscle closing off the top of the stomach fails to do its job. Stomach contents, including powerful stomach acid, can then back up into the lower esophagus. While the stomach lining is designed to handle stomach acid, the esophageal lining is not. This results in the pain commonly known as “heartburn”. The pain has nothing to do with the heart, but it does occur in roughly the same area, hence the name. In actuality, the pain is caused by acid burning the lining of the esophagus.

Many things can cause GERD, including certain foods or beverages such as coffee, alcohol, chocolate, and fried or fatty foods. Occasional mild cases can usually be settled with an antacid, but persistent long term GERD may require stronger measures. The consistent use of antacids can bring about problems such as diarrhea, and can even create an imbalance in the body’s metabolism of calcium and magnesium. GERD has the potential to seriously damage the esophagus. A chronic condition called esophagitis may lead to bleeding and ulcers, and scar tissue can cause the esophagus to narrow. A severely narrowed esophagus makes swallowing very difficult and the condition may have to be treated by ablation, which is using a balloon-like structure to push back the scarred walls. Some studies have shown that esophageal cancer may arise from such chronic damage.

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