What is GERD?
GERD is caused by a weak lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Normally the LES acts like a one-way valve, allowing food and liquid to pass through to the stomach, but preventing stomach contents from flowing back into the esophagus. Some patients have a hiatal hernia, which can further weak the LES and worsen the severity of symptoms.
The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. However, GERD can produce a wide variety of symptoms including those listed below.
- Chest pain
- Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
- Shortness of breath
- Dental erosions and bad breath
- Voice changes
- Frequent throat clearing
Risks of GERD
In addition to producing a wide range of symptoms, GERD can lead to potentially serious complications including:
- Esophagitis (Inflammation that can damage the tissue of the esophagus)
- Stricture (Narrowing of the esophagus) Barrett’s esophagus (Pre-cancerous changes to the tissue lining the esophagus)
- Esophageal cancer
Treatment options for GERD
There are three different treatment strategies for GERD: lifestyle modifications, medication, and surgical intervention. Lifestyle modifications include weight loss, raising the head of the bed at night, smoking cessation, avoiding food triggers, avoidance of alcohol can help improve symptoms.
Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) like Prilosec and Nexium have been the mainstay of treatment for many years. These medications work by decreasing the amount of acid that the stomach normally secretes. It is important to note, however, that these medications do not fix the weakened valve thereby they do not prevent the act of reflux. Medications have been the mainstay of treatment options for GERD as they are effective at alleviating the symptom of heartburn, healing erosions to the lining of the esophagus, and overall are thought to be safe. Studies have shown, however, that 30-40% of patients continue to have symptoms while on medical therapy.
Surgical therapy is the third treatment option for chronic GERD sufferers. Anti-reflux procedures have been proven to be an effective, if not more effective than medical therapy, for alleviating GERD symptoms. Surgical procedures aim to fix the cause of acid reflux, by strengthening the lower esophageal sphincter and preventing reflux. The majority of patients are able to stop their medical therapy following surgery.
Acid Reflux Specialists at UT Health Austin
The Center for Heartburn & Esophageal Disorders at UT Health Austin focuses on the diagnosis and treatment for disorders the esophagus and stomach. Patients may feel limited by their current medication or treatment options, which may often treat the symptoms, but not the disease. In time, acid reflux symptoms may worsen, affecting an individual’s eating, sleeping, and overall health. However, there are options for you.
Our Digestive Health and Surgery Center care team will work with you to diagnose and treat the cause of your acid reflux. In some cases, surgical treatments may relieve acid reflux for good! Our team also diagnoses and treats other conditions of the esophagus, including laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR), achalasia, Barrett’s Esophagus, complex hiatal hernias, failed redo-operations), and other esophageal disorders.
Care Team Approach
We have assembled a team of experts that includes a gastroenterologist, surgeons, associate providers, imaging experts, dietitian, and social workers. This team enables us to provide the right care for the right patient at the right time. For some patients, nonsurgical interventions such as lifestyle modifications and medications can help improve symptoms of reflux, while surgery may be the best course of action for others. Whatever your needs, our team is here to listen and work with you to develop a treatment plan that is right for you.