GERD is short for gastroesophageal reflux disease and is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
- Gastroesophageal - it refers to the stomach and esophagus
- Reflux - it means to flow back or return
Thus, GERD reflux is simply the return of the contents of the stomach upwards into the esophagus.
Normal digestion involves the passing of food through the LES when it opens. However, the LES closes during normal digestion in order to stop food as well as acidic stomach juices from flowing back into the esophagus. When the LES is weak or relaxes and opens at inappropriate times, the stomach's contents flow back up into the esophagus.
GERD is thought to arise because of a condition known as hiatal hernia. Hiatal hernia occurs as part of the stomach pushes upward through a small opening in the diaphragm that is meant for the passing of food on its way to the stomach. The LES is a ring of muscle located between the esophagus and stomach. GERD causes people to suffer from either heartburn or acid indigestion.
A hiatal hernia is thought to weaken the LES, therefore increasing the risk for gastroesophageal reflux. Increased pressure in the abdomen due to coughing, vomiting, straining, or sudden physical exertion can lead to hiatal hernia. Other conditions that can potentially lead to hiatal hernia are obesity and pregnancy. Hiatal hernias are known to affect people in their later years, but they can occur in people of all ages
Hiatal hernias are typically fine when left untreated, but treatment becomes necessary if the hernia is in danger of becoming twisted in a way that cuts of blood supply or is furthered by severe GERD or inflammation of the esophagitis. Treatment of hiatal hernias requires a surgical procedure to reduce the size of the hernia or to prevent strangulation.
As for GERD, only a small number of people with the condition need surgery due to severe reflux and poor bodily response to medical treatment. Surgery for GERD should not be considered until all other treatment options have been unsuccessful. GERD can normally be treated with lifestyle and dietary changes given by a doctor that decrease the amount of reflux or reducing damage to the lining of the esophagus from refluxed materials.