Your stomach lining is tough as old boots. It is built to handle the most dangerous kind of acid – the sort that burns holes through fabric. However, your esophagus is made of soft tissue and can be easily damaged as acid comes back up in the form of heartburn. While it is not uncommon to have a heart pang here or a burp there, acid reflux GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disorder is a serious condition that can cause other medical problems if left unchecked. At what point does the occasional heartburn become full-blown acid reflux GERD?
If you have chronic heartburn two or more days per week over a several month period, then you probably have GERD symptoms. People have varying sensitivity to stomach acids as well. If you frequently eat within an hour or two of going to sleep and find yourself awake coughing, with a hoarse voice and bitter taste in your mouth the next morning, then you most likely have supine reflux.
Over half the people with acid reflux disease suffer nighttime symptoms as well. If left unchecked, then esophagus damage and asthma can occur. Additionally, your reflux symptoms may signify poor nutrition, which can turn into a whole myriad of life-threatening diseases and disorders.
When you see your doctor about gastroesophageal reflux disorder, there are several tests to determine if your heartburn may damage the esophagus or internal organs.
The first test is called an Endoscopy, where a thin, flexible tube and video camera are passed into the mouth, down the esophagus and into the stomach. Don’t worry – you’ll be sedated and you won’t feel a thing!
The second test your doctor may perform is called a Barium Esophagram. This test observes the shape of the esophagus, looking for abnormalities in the stomach and throat. You’ll drink a chalky liquid containing barium, which coats the esophagus and stomach, and allows them to be viewed in an X-ray.
A third procedure, known as Esophageal pH Monitoring, tests for the amount of acid in the esophagus over time. In one variation of this test, a tiny tube goes in through the nose, into the esophagus and an acid monitor on the tip measures acid levels over a 24-hour period. The other way to monitor consists of attaching a medicine capsule sized monitor during an endoscopy, which tests acid over a 48-hour period when the monitor is passed out like food. While these may seem uncomfortable, keep in mind that it is better than dealing with a rotted esophagus later!
Gastroesophageal reflux disorder should not be underestimated. Not only is it painful when the acid backs up into the throat, but it can also cause erosive esophagitis, since the soft fleshy tissue in the esophagus was not made like the stomach to handle the corrosive acids.
Chronic acid reflux can also cause an abnormal condition known as Barrett’s Esophagus, which is an open invitation to esophageal cancer. However, the good news is that after a few simple tests and painless treatments, you can avoid these problems altogether and live a healthy, normal life.