Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a condition that occurs when acid and bile from the stomach reflux into the esophagus, resulting in frequent heartburn. Overtime, the chronic acid reflux can cause damage to the lining of the esophagus, which is the muscular tube that connects the stomach and mouth.
Treatment for GERD varies depending on the severity of your condition and can be broken down into three categories: lifestyle remedies, medication and surgery. Many people require a combination of all three treatment types for full relief.
For many people, behavioral and lifestyle changes are enough to combat the frequent and painful symptoms. Often, lifestyle modifications are recommended as a first step in the treatment process of GERD. Simple behavioral adjustments that often help to treat the pain and discomfort of GERD include:
- Eating less at each meal
- Losing weight
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding triggers that aggravate your heartburn and acid reflux.
For many people, these simple lifestyle changes are enough to cause a significant improvement in their overall quality of life. Others require medication and even surgical treatment for full relief from the different symptoms of GERD.
There are several different types of medications that help control acid production and prevent acid reflux. A lot of medications that can successfully treat GERD in certain people are available over-the-counter. Others are only accessible with a prescription from your physician.
One type of medication that often helps to alleviate heartburn and acid reflux are antacids, which work by neutralizing stomach acids. While they often provide immediate relief antacids do not help in the prevention of future symptoms. Examples of antacids include Pepto-Bismol, Milk of Magnesia and Alka-Seltzer.
Proton pump inhibitors are the strongest type of anti-reflux medications and are only available through a prescription from your physician. Proton Pump inhibitors are not fast acting like antacids, but work instead by decreasing the production of acid in the stomach and provide the esophagus with relief for 24 hours, allowing you time to heal.
Surgical Treatment Options
Under certain circumstances surgery is the most successful method for treating GERD. Many patients benefit from medication and lifestyle adjustments and do not require surgery. Surgery is a recommended treatment method for GERD when:
- Medicine has not succeeded in relieving symptoms
- Patients cannot tolerate the medications, often due to the side effects
- The sphincter muscle no longer works properly
- Complications have occurred such as bleeding, or narrowing of the esophagus
- Esophageal cancer develops
Often, GERD can be treated with laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic surgery is minimally invasive, which means that it does not require any large incisions like a traditional, open operation would. Laparoscopic surgery is performed with the use of a laparoscope, a thin and flexible tool that is similar to a telescope. The laparoscope has a small camera and light on its tip which provides your surgeon with visibility during the procedure.
Benefits of Laparoscopic surgery for GERD include:
- Reduced hospital stay
- Less pain
- Faster recovery
- Reduced cost
- Less risk of infection
- Small incision
- Reduced scarring
Laparoscopic anti-reflux surgery treats GERD by restoring the valve between the esophagus and the stomach, therefore protecting your esophagus from acid reflux. During the procedure, your physician will wrap the upper portion of your stomach around the lower part of your esophagus. This process adds strength to the muscles that prevent stomach acid and bile from regurgitating into the esophagus.