Thursday, June 28

Lifestyle Changes

Eating and then lying down right after can make it easier for the acid in your stomach to be available to reflux into the esophagus. If you eat and then lie down, the body is producing acid to digest the food so there is plenty available when fluids are refluxing into the esophagus. It's best if your stomach is empty when lying down. But, if the stomach is full, it would be helpful if you elevate the head of your bed 6 inches so gravity can help keep the acid down.

Don't eat large meals. An over full stomach needs more acid to digest, meaning more acid to reflux into the esophagus.

Avoid Fatty foods or spicy foods, Citrus fruits, Onions,Tomato products, Coffee, Caffeinated tea, Alcoholic beverages, Chocolate, mints or peppermints, and Pepper. These foods weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, causing acid reflux.

Stop smoking, this also weakens the lower esophageal sphincter causing acid reflux.

Stay fit and exercise regularly(but not on a full stomach) since overweight people are more likely to suffer from acid reflux than someone who is in shape.

Wednesday, June 27


Acid reflux can't be cured, but it can be treated for relief. There are many ways to relieve the discomfort of acid reflux without a doctors help. These treatments include certain lifestyle changes and over the counter medications. If these treatments don't work, then a doctor may prescribe a medication for acid reflux relief.

Friday, June 22

What is a reasonable approach to the management of GERD?

There are several ways to approach the evaluation and management of GERD. The approach depends primarily on the frequency and severity of symptoms, the adequacy of the response to treatment, and the presence of complications.

For infrequent heartburn, the most common symptom of GERD, life-style changes and an occasional antacid may be all that is necessary. If heartburn is frequent, daily non-prescription-strength (over-the-counter) H2 antagonists may be necessary. A foam barrier also can be used with the antacid or H2 antagonist.

If life-style changes and antacids, non-prescription H2 antagonists, and a foam barrier do not adequately relieve heartburn, it is time to see a physician for further evaluation and to consider prescription-strength drugs. The evaluation by the physician should include an assessment for possible complications of GERD based on the presence of such symptoms or findings as cough, asthma, hoarseness, sore throat, difficulty swallowing, unexplained lung infections, or anemia (due to bleeding from esophageal inflammation or ulceration). Clues to the presence of diseases that may mimic GERD, such as gastric or duodenal ulcers and esophageal motility disorders, should be sought.

If there are no symptoms or signs of complications and no suspicion of other diseases, a therapeutic trial of acid suppression with H2 antagonists often is used. If H2 antagonists are not adequately effective, a second trial, this time with the more potent PPIs, can be given. Sometimes, a trial of treatment begins with a PPI and skips the H2 antagonist. If treatment relieves the symptoms completely, no further evaluation may be necessary and the effective drug, the H2 antagonist or PPI, is continued. As discussed above, however, there are potential problems with this commonly used approach and some physicians would recommend a further evaluation for almost all patients they see.

If at the time of evaluation, there are symptoms or signs that suggest complicated GERD or a disease other than GERD, or if the relief of symptoms with H2 antagonists or PPIs is not satisfactory, a further evaluation by endoscopy (EGD) definitely should be done.

There are several possible results of endoscopy and each requires a different approach to treatment. If the esophagus is normal and no other diseases are found, the goal of treatment simply is to relieve symptoms. Therefore, prescription strength H2 antagonists or PPIs are appropriate. If damage to the esophagus (esophagitis or ulceration) is found, the goal of treatment is healing the damage. In this case, PPIs are preferred over H2 antagonists because they are more effective for healing.

If complications of GERD, such as stricture or Barrett's esophagus are found, treatment with PPIs also is more appropriate. However, the adequacy of the PPI treatment probably should be evaluated with a 24-hour ph study during treatment with the PPI. (With PPIs, although the amount of acid reflux may be reduced enough to control symptoms, it may still be abnormally high. Therefore, judging the adequacy of suppression of acid reflux by only the response of symptoms to treatment is not satisfactory.) Strictures may also need to be treated by endoscopic dilatation (widening) of the esophageal narrowing. With Barrett's esophagus, periodic endoscopic examination should be done to identify pre-malignant changes in the esophagus.

If symptoms of GERD do not respond to maximum doses of PPI, there are two options for management. The first is to perform 24-hour ph testing to determine whether the PPI is ineffective or if a disease other than GERD is likely to be present. If the PPI is ineffective, a higher dose of PPI may be tried. The second option is to go ahead without 24 hour ph testing and to increase the dose of PPI. Another alternative is to add another drug to the PPI that works in a way that is different from the PPI, for example, a pro-motility drug or a foam barrier. If necessary, all three types of drugs can be used. If there is not a satisfactory response to this maximal treatment, 24 hour ph testing should be done.

Who should consider surgery or, perhaps, endoscopic treatment for GERD? (As mentioned previously, the effectiveness of the recently developed endoscopic treatments remains to be determined.) Patients should consider surgery if they have regurgitation that cannot be controlled with drugs. This recommendation is particularly important if the regurgitation results in infections in the lungs or occurs at night when aspiration into the lungs is more likely. Patients also should consider surgery if they require large doses of PPI or multiple drugs to control their reflux. Still, it is debated whether or not a desire to be free of the need to take life-long drugs to prevent symptoms of GERD is by itself a satisfactory reason for having surgery.

Some physicians--primarily surgeons--recommend that all patients with Barrett's esophagus should have surgery. This recommendation is based on the belief that surgery is more effective than treatment with drugs in preventing both the reflux and the cancerous changes in the esophagus. There are no studies, however, demonstrating the superiority of surgery over drugs for the treatment of GERD and its complications. Moreover, the effectiveness of drug treatment can be monitored with 24 hour ph testing

Wednesday, June 20

Emptying of the stomach

Most reflux during the day occurs after meals. This reflux probably is due to transient LES relaxations that are caused by distention of the stomach with food. A minority of patients with GERD, about 20%, has been found to have stomachs that empty abnormally slowly after a meal. The slower emptying of the stomach prolongs the distention of the stomach with food after meals. Therefore, the slower emptying prolongs the period of time during which reflux is more likely to occur.

Sunday, June 17

Esophageal contractions

As previously mentioned, swallows are important in eliminating acid in the esophagus. Swallowing causes a ring-like wave of contraction of the esophageal muscles, which narrows the lumen (inner cavity) of the esophagus. The contraction, referred to as peristalsis, begins in the upper esophagus and travels to the lower esophagus. It pushes food, saliva, and whatever else is in the esophagus into the stomach.

When the wave of contraction is defective, refluxed acid is not pushed back into the stomach. In patients with GERD, several abnormalities of contraction have been described. For example, waves of contraction may not begin after each swallow or the waves of contraction may die out before they reach the stomach. Also, the pressure generated by the contractions may be too weak to push the acid back into the stomach. Such abnormalities of contraction, which reduce the clearance of acid from the esophagus, are found frequently in patients with GERD. In fact, they are found most frequently in those patients with the most severe GERD. The effects of abnormal esophageal contractions would be expected to be worse at night when gravity is not helping to return refluxed acid to the stomach. Note that smoking also substantially reduces the clearance of acid from the esophagus. This effect continues for at least 6 hours after the last cigarette.

Saturday, June 16

Hiatal hernia

Hiatal hernias contribute to reflux, although the way in which they contribute is not clear. A majority of patients with GERD have hiatal hernias, but many do not. Therefore, it is not necessary to have a hiatal hernia in order to have GERD. Moreover, many people have hiatal hernias but do not have GERD. It is not known for certain how or why hiatal hernias develop.

Normally, the LES is located at the same level where the esophagus passes from the chest through the diaphragm and into the abdomen. (The diaphragm is a muscular, horizontal partition that separates the chest from the abdomen.) When there is a hiatal hernia, a small part of the upper stomach that attaches to the esophagus pushes up through the diaphragm. As a result, a small part of the stomach and the LES come to lie in the chest, and the LES is no longer at the level of the diaphragm.

It appears that the diaphragm that surrounds the LES is important in preventing reflux. That is, in individuals without hiatal hernias, the diaphragm surrounding the esophagus is continuously contracted, but then relaxes with swallows, just like the LES. Note that the effects of the LES and diaphragm occur at the same location in patients without hiatal hernias. Therefore, the barrier to reflux is equal to the sum of the pressures generated by the LES and the diaphragm. When the LES moves into the chest with a hiatal hernia, the diaphragm and the LES continue to exert their pressures and barrier effect. However, they now do so at different locations. Consequently, the pressures are no longer additive. Instead, a single, high-pressure barrier to reflux is replaced by two barriers of lower pressure, and reflux thus occurs more easily. So, decreasing the pressure barrier is one way that an hiatal hernia can contribute to reflux.

There is a second way in which hiatal hernias might contribute to reflux. When a hiatal hernia is present, there is a hernial sac, which is a small pouch of stomach above the diaphragm. The sac is pinched off from the esophagus above by the LES and from the stomach below by the diaphragm. What's important about this situation is that the sac can trap acid that comes from the stomach. This trap keeps the acid close to the esophagus. As a result, it is easier for the acid to reflux when the LES relaxes with a swallow or a transient relaxation.

Finally, there is a third way in which hiatal hernias might contribute to reflux. The esophagus normally joins the stomach obliquely, which means not straight on or at a 90-degree angle. Due to this oblique angle of entry, a flap of tissue is formed between the stomach and esophagus. This flap of tissue is believed to act like a valve, shutting off the esophagus from the stomach and preventing reflux. When there is a hiatal hernia, the entry of the esophagus into the stomach is pulled up into the chest. Therefore, the valve-like flap is distorted or disappears and it no longer can help prevent reflux.

Thursday, June 14

Lower esophageal sphincter

The action of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is perhaps the most important factor (mechanism) for preventing reflux. The esophagus is a muscular tube that extends from the lower throat to the stomach. The LES is a specialized ring of muscle that surrounds the lower-most end of the esophagus where it joins the stomach. The muscle that makes up the LES is active most of the time. This means that it is contracting and closing off the passage from the esophagus into the stomach. This closing of the passage prevents reflux. When food or saliva is swallowed, the LES relaxes for a few seconds to allow the food or saliva to pass from the esophagus into the stomach, and then it closes again.

Several different abnormalities of the LES have been found in patients with GERD. Two of them involve the function of the LES. The first is abnormally weak contraction of the LES, which reduces its ability to prevent reflux. The second is abnormal relaxations of the LES, called transient LES relaxations. They are abnormal in that they do not accompany swallows and they last for a long time, up to several minutes. These prolonged relaxations allow reflux to occur more easily. The transient LES relaxations occur in patients with GERD most commonly after meals when the stomach is distended with food. Transient LES relaxations also occur in individuals without GERD, but they are infrequent.

The most recently-described abnormality in patients with GERD is laxity of the LES. Specifically, similar distending pressures open the LES more in patients with GERD than in individuals without GERD. At least theoretically, this would allow easier opening of the LES and/or greater backward flow of acid into the esophagus when the LES is open.

Wednesday, June 13

What causes GERD?

The cause of GERD is complex. There probably are multiple causes, and different causes may be operative in different individuals or even in the same individual at various times. A small number of patients with GERD produce abnormally large amounts of acid, but this is uncommon and not a contributing factor in the vast majority of patients. The factors that contribute to causing GERD are the lower esophageal sphincter, hiatal hernias, esophageal contractions, and emptying of the stomach.

Monday, June 11

Acid perfusion test

The acid perfusion (Bernstein) test is used to determine if chest pain is caused by acid reflux. For the test, a thin tube is passed through one nostril, down the back of the throat, and into the middle of the esophagus. A dilute, acid solution and a physiologic (normal) salt solution are alternately poured (perfused) through the catheter and into the esophagus. The patient is unaware of which solution is being infused. If the perfusion with acid provokes the patient's usual pain and perfusion of the salt solution produces no pain, it is likely that the patient's pain is caused by acid reflux.

The acid perfusion test, however, is used only rarely. A better test for correlating pain and acid reflux is a 24-hour esophageal ph study during which patients note when they are having pain. It then can be determined from the ph recording if there was an episode of acid reflux at the time of the pain. This is the preferable way of deciding if acid reflux is causing a patient's pain.

Saturday, June 9

Gastric emptying studies

Gastric emptying studies are studies that determine how well food empties from the stomach. As discussed above, about 20 % of patients with GERD have a slow emptying of the stomach that may be contributing to the reflux of acid. For gastric emptying studies, the patient eats a meal that is labeled with a radioactive substance. A sensor that is similar to a Geiger counter is placed over the stomach to measure how quickly the radioactive substance in the meal empties from the stomach.

Information from the emptying study can be useful for managing patients with GERD. For example, if a patient with GERD continues to have symptoms despite treatment with the usual medications, doctors might prescribe other medications that speed-up emptying of the stomach. Alternatively, in conjunction with GERD surgery, they might do a surgical procedure that promotes a more rapid emptying of the stomach. Nevertheless, it is still debated whether a finding of reduced gastric emptying should prompt changes in the surgical treatment of GERD.

Symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and regurgitation may be due either to abnormal gastric emptying or GERD. An evaluation of gastric emptying, therefore, may be useful in identifying patients whose symptoms are due to abnormal emptying rather than to GERD.

Friday, June 8

Esophageal motility testing

Esophageal motility testing determines how well the muscles of the esophagus are working. For motility testing, a thin tube (catheter) is passed through a nostril, down the back of the throat, and into the esophagus. On the part of the catheter that is inside the esophagus are sensors that sense pressure. When the muscle of the esophagus contracts, a pressure is generated within the esophagus that is detected by the sensors on the catheter. The end of the catheter that protrudes from the nostril is attached to a recorder that records the pressure. During the test, the pressure at rest and the relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter are evaluated. The patient then swallows sips of water to evaluate the contractions of the esophagus.

Esophageal motility testing has two important uses in evaluating GERD. The first is in evaluating symptoms that do not respond to treatment for GERD. The abnormal function of the esophageal muscle sometimes causes symptoms that resemble the symptoms of GERD. Motility testing can identify these abnormalities and lead to a diagnosis of an esophageal motility disorder. The second use is evaluation prior to surgical or endoscopic treatment for GERD. In this situation, the purpose is to identify patients who also have motility disorders of the esophageal muscle. The reason for this is that in patients with motility disorders, some surgeons will modify the type of surgery they perform for GERD.

Thursday, June 7

Esophageal acid testing

Esophageal acid testing is considered a "gold standard" for diagnosing GERD. As discussed above, the reflux of acid is common in the general population. However, patients with the symptoms or complications of GERD have reflux of more acid than individuals without the symptoms or complications of GERD. Moreover, normal individuals and patients with GERD can be distinguished fairly well from each other by the amount of time that the esophagus contains acid.

The amount of time that the esophagus contains acid is determined by a test called a 24-hour esophageal ph test. (Ph is a mathematical way of expressing the amount of acidity.) For this test, a small tube (catheter) is passed through the nose and positioned in the esophagus. On the tip of the catheter is a sensor that senses acid. The other end of the catheter exits from the nose, wraps back over the ear, and travels down to the waist, where it is attached to a recorder. Each time acid refluxes back into the esophagus from the stomach, it stimulates the sensor and the recorder records the episode of reflux. After a 20 to 24 hour period of time, the catheter is removed and the record of reflux from the recorder is analyzed.

There are problems with using ph testing for diagnosing GERD. Despite the fact that normal individuals and patients with GERD can be separated fairly well on the basis of ph studies, the separation is not perfect. Therefore, some patients with GERD will have normal amounts of acid reflux and some patients without GERD will have abnormal amounts of acid reflux. It requires something other than the ph test to confirm the presence of GERD, for example, typical symptoms, response to treatment, or the presence of complications of GERD.

Ph testing has uses in the management of GERD other than just diagnosing GERD. For example, the test can help determine why GERD symptoms do not respond to treatment. Perhaps 10 to 20 percent of patients will not have their symptoms substantially improved by treatment for GERD. This lack of response to treatment could be caused by ineffective treatment. This means that the medication is not adequately suppressing the production of acid by the stomach and thereby is not reducing acid reflux. Alternatively, the lack of response can be explained by a wrong diagnosis of GERD. In both of these situations, the ph test can be very useful. If testing reveals substantial reflux of acid while medication is continued, then the treatment is ineffective and will need to be changed. If testing reveals good acid suppression with minimal reflux of acid, the diagnosis of GERD is likely to be wrong and other causes for the symptoms need to be sought.

Ph testing also can be used to help evaluate whether reflux is the cause of symptoms (usually heartburn). To make this evaluation, while the 24-hour ph testing is being done, patients record each time they have symptoms. Then, when the test is being analyzed, it can be determined whether or not acid reflux occurred at the time of the symptoms. If reflux did occur at the same time as the symptoms, then reflux is likely to be the cause of the symptoms. If there was no reflux at the time of symptoms, then reflux is unlikely to be the cause of the symptoms.

Lastly, ph testing can be used to evaluate patients prior to endoscopic or surgical treatment for GERD. As discussed above, some 20 % of patients will have a decrease in their symptoms even though they don't have GERD (the placebo effect). Prior to endoscopic or surgical treatment, it is important to identify these patients because they are not likely to benefit from the treatments. The ph study can be used to identify these patients because they will have normal amounts of acid reflux.

A newer method for prolonged measurement (48 hours) of acid exposure in the esophagus utilizes a small, wireless capsule that is attached to the esophagus just above the LES. The capsule is passed to the lower esophagus by a tube inserted through either the mouth or the nose. After the capsule is attached to the esophagus, the tube is removed. The capsule measures the acid refluxing into the esophagus and transmits this information to a receiver that is worn at the waist. After the study, usually after 48 hours, the information from the receiver is downloaded into a computer and analyzed. The capsule falls off of the esophagus after 3-5 days and is passed in the stool. (The capsule is not reused.) The advantage of the capsule over standard ph testing is that there is no discomfort from a catheter that passes through the throat and nose. Moreover, with the capsule, patients look normal (they don't have a catheter protruding from their noses) and are more likely to go about their daily activities, for example, go to work, without feeling self-conscious. Capsule ph testing is expensive. Sometimes the capsule does not attach to the esophagus or falls off prematurely. For periods of time the receiver may not receive signals from the capsule, and some of the information about reflux of acid may be lost. Occasionally there is pain with swallowing after the capsule has been placed. Use of the capsule is an exciting use of new technology, but with its inherent problems and lack of widespread use and evaluation, it is not yet clear what its role should be.

Tuesday, June 5

Examination of the throat and larynx

When GERD affects the throat or larynx and causes symptoms of cough, hoarseness, or sore throat, patients often visit an ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist. The ENT specialist frequently finds signs of inflammation of the throat or larynx. Although diseases of the throat or larynx usually are the cause of the inflammation, sometimes GERD can be the cause. Accordingly, ENT specialists often try acid-suppressing treatment to confirm the diagnosis of GERD. This approach, however, has the same problems that, as discussed above, result from using the response to treatment to confirm GERD.

Monday, June 4


Before the introduction of endoscopy, an x-ray of the esophagus (called an esophagram) was the only means of diagnosing GERD. Patients swallowed barium (contrast material), and x-rays of the barium-filled esophagus were then taken. The problem with the esophagram was that it was an insensitive test for diagnosing GERD. That is, it failed to find signs of GERD in many patients who had GERD because the patients had little or no damage to the lining of the esophagus. The x-rays were able to show only the infrequent complications of GERD, for example, ulcers and strictures. X-rays have been abandoned as a means of diagnosing GERD, although they still can be useful in addition to endoscopy in the evaluation of complications.

Saturday, June 2


Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy (also known as esophago-gastro-duodenoscopy or EGD) is a common way of diagnosing GERD. EGD is a procedure in which a tube containing an optical system for visualization is swallowed. As the tube progresses down the gastrointestinal tract, the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum can be examined.

The esophagus of most patients with symptoms of reflux looks normal. Therefore, in most patients, endoscopy will not help in the diagnosis of GERD. However, sometimes the lining of the esophagus appears inflamed (esophagitis). Moreover, if erosions (superficial breaks in the esophageal lining) or ulcers (deeper breaks in the lining) are seen, a diagnosis of GERD can be made. Endoscopy will also identify several of the complications of GERD, specifically, ulcers, strictures, and Barrett's esophagus. Biopsies also may be obtained. Finally, other problems that may be causing GERD-like symptoms-for example ulcers, inflammation, or cancers-can be diagnosed in the stomach or duodenum.