Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
When you experience the painful, burning symptoms of heartburn more than twice per week you may have GERD, or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. GERD is normally caused by a failure in the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), located at the base of the esophagus. When working properly the LES opens to allow food to enter the stomach and shuts tight to keep the caustic stomach acids from coming in contact with the esophagus. When the LES fails, stomach acids backs up, or refluxes, into the esophagus. The sensitive tissue lining the esophagus is not equipped for coming in contact with the stomach acid, this contact causes a sharp burning pain.
GERD can also have symptoms to do not readily appear related to heartburn. These symptoms include coughing, hoarseness, sore throat, asthma like symptoms, and dental decay. Over time, the repeated acid contact can cause permanent damage, pitting, and scarring of the esophagus. This damage can become serious and overtime patients are at risk for developing Barrett's Esophagus. Over the counter medications may relieve the symptoms, but they are designed for short term usage. Long term use of these powerful medications should only be done under the supervision of a physician.