When the valve separating the esophagus to the stomach (called the lower esophageal sphincter or LES) relaxes when it shouldn’t, the sufferer has a condition known as gastro-esophageal reflux or GERD. GERD causes stomach contents and acid to “reflux” or re-flow into the esophagus. This condition often causes pain in the chest as well as heartburn.
GERD is a common and chronic condition and is the most common cause of indigestion.
What are the symptoms of GERD?
The most conspicuous symptom of GERD is heartburn. About 33% of adults experience heartburn at a minimum of once a month and around a tenth of the population in the United States has this condition at least once a week.
The burning pain that heartburn produces usually is felt around the chest. It travels upwards when reflux occurs and it occasionally can be felt in the throat. Straining, bending or eating usually triggers heartburn.
Other symptoms of reflux:
-Vomiting of blood
-Night-time choking or coughing
-Dry cough or sore throat
-Chest pain that can mimic that of a heart attack
When does GERD occur?
-Lifting, bending, bending over or lying down can cause GERD
-After drinking alcohol, eating a meal full of fat or eating a large mean
-Smoking that can cause GERD symptoms or make it worse
Most people with GERD can experience its symptoms once or twice a week and even daily depending on the severity of the condition.
Can GERD affect your health?
GERD is a very unpleasant condition and it can have a significant effect on a person’s lifestyle.
What conditions can cause GERD?
In a lot of instances, doctors cannot specify the actual cause of GERD although the following factors can contribute to its rise:
Lying down – when the body lies down, the force of gravity makes it highly susceptible for experiencing GERD symptoms. One remedy for this is to raise your head with a pillow by placing a brick or 3 inch blocks under the two legs of the bed where your head is often situated.
Constipation – constipation adds more pressure on the stomach causing the likelihood of GERD to develop.
Tobacco – cigarette smoking can weaken the function of the LES and slows down the time the abdomen empties and the production of stomach acid.
Hiatus hernia – the stomach stretches through the diaphragm, and there are occasions that the muscles of the diaphragm prevent the closing of the lower end of the esophagus. The sphincter remains open enabling the stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus.
Unsuitable Foods – these foods cause the LES to work improperly: alcohol, nuts, hot and spice foods, sour foods, fruit juices, coffee, peppermint and chocolate. Overeating can also cause the esophageal sphincter to malfunction.
Big Meals – big meals stretch the stomach and when the stomach is stretched, the higher the person’s chances for GERD. Eating fatty meals can slow down gastric emptying. So, try not to eat large rich meals often, especially during the evening.
Pregnancy – during pregnancy, the uterus expands causing pressure on the abdomen which adds to the chances of reflux. Besides that, hormonal changes can cause the LES to relax more often during pregnancy.
Overweight – too much fat in the stomach cavity increases pressure inside the abdomen which can lead to increased pressure there. The result may be the welling back of acid and stomach content into the gullet.
How can you prevent the rise of GERD?
People should limit or avoid the use of NSAIDS or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, If possible. NSAIDs such as naproxen (Aleve), ibuprofen (Avild, Motrin) and aspirin should be avoided if you are at high risk for GERD. One very good alternative to NSAIDS is acetaminophen (acetaminophen).
It is thought that chewing gum can heighten the chance of developing GERD. One study, however, stated that it might help lessen the symptoms. Since saliva can neutralize acid and since it has several other factors that help protect the esophagus, half an hour of gum chewing has been known to be beneficial in protecting against damage caused by GERD and in helping alleviate heartburn. Chewing on anything can stimulate more production of saliva
Avoid Tight Clothing
GERD sufferers should not wear tight fitting clothes especially around the stomach
Overweight people are more likely to develop GERD therefore it is important to reduce your food intake and your weight
People who have difficulty swallowing need to stay away from pasta, doughy bread, vegetables with skins and tough meats. They need to have a diet rich in vegetables and fruits, although acidic vegetables and fruits should be avoided (e.g., tomatoes, pineapple, grapefruit, lemons and oranges). Actually, the fact is, no studies have been done showing that a high-fat or a low-fat meal can cause the occurrence of GERD symptoms. Further studies are required to verify this. Still, it is always good to stay away from saturated fats (from animal products), and avoid all fats if you are overweight.
Change in lifestyle
Individuals suffering from heartburn need to change their lifestyle. A study showed that, 44% of subjects who were suffering from symptoms of GERD showed improvement after they changed their diet. Carbonated drinks should be avoided as they add to the risk of developing GERD. Adding more protein to your diet can make the muscles stronger including the lower esophageal sphincter. People with GERD should opt for fish, poultry, or skin or low-fat dairy products instead.
Selenium-rich whole grains can help protect the rise of dangerous cells changes that may lead to Barrett’s esophagus.
How Can Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine treat GERD?
Chinese medicine has several herbal concoctions that can remedy GERD symptoms. These concoctions are designed specifically for each patient. A formula called Chinese Master ‘s special herbal medicine is powerful enough to relieve and control gastro-esophageal reflux disorders.
The aim of Chinese herbal therapy and acupuncture is to limit the production of acid, bring back the normal function of the stomach and boost the flow of Qi. They are very effective therapies and help completely prevent the onset of complications of GERD.
Ivelisse DeJongh is a Miami acupuncturist and the medical director at DeJongh Acupuncture Clinic.