Feasting ‘Til It Hurts: The Uncomfortable Truth About Holiday Eating

OAK BROOK, Ill., (PRNewswire) — Throughout the holiday season, many individuals will eagerly partake in the abundance that graces their tables and gatherings. After indulging, however, nearly 20% of Americans will suffer the effects of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, making their celebrations less than festive. November 19-25 is National GERD Awareness Week. The American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy supports this campaign and urges individuals who suffer from GERD to seek medical diagnosis and treatment to make their holidays and every day comfortable and symptom-free.

What is GERD? GERD occurs when a muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) does not close properly and stomach contents leak back, or reflux, into the esophagus or swallowing tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach. When refluxed stomach acid touches the lining of the esophagus, it causes a burning sensation in the chest or throat called heartburn. The fluid may even be tasted in the back of the mouth, and this is called acid indigestion. Occasional heartburn is common. Heartburn that occurs frequently may be associated with more serious health problems, such as tissue breakdown of the esophagus, known as erosive esophagitis. Anyone, including infants, children, and pregnant women, can have GERD.

What are the symptoms of GERD? The main symptoms are persistent heartburn and acid regurgitation. Some people have GERD without heartburn. Instead, they experience pain in the chest, hoarseness in the morning, asthma, or trouble swallowing. You may feel like you have food stuck in your throat or like you are choking or your throat is tight. GERD can also cause a dry cough and bad breath. If you can answer “yes” to two or more of the following questions, you may have GERD.

1) Do you frequently have one or more of the following?
— An uncomfortable feeling behind the breastbone that seems to be moving upward from the stomach?
— A burning sensation in the back of your throat?
— A bitter acid taste in your mouth?

2) Do you often experience these problems after meals?

3) Do you experience heartburn or acid indigestion two or more times per week?

4) Do you find that antacids only provide temporary relief from your symptoms?

5) Are you taking prescription medication to treat heartburn, but still having symptoms?

Can it be prevented or treated? If you suspect you or a loved one may have GERD, the first step is to consult your healthcare provider or a gastrointestinal specialist to obtain an accurate diagnosis. A gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopist is a specialist physician who diagnoses and treats diseases of the digestive tract, such as GERD. Work in partnership with your physician to initiate the best available treatment plan.

Treatment options can include lifestyle modifications, medication, surgery, or a combination of methods. Over-the-counter medications may provide only temporary symptom relief and may not prevent recurrence of symptoms or allow an injured esophagus to heal. They should not be taken regularly as a substitute for prescription medicines without consultation with a physician, as they may hide a more serious condition. If medications are needed regularly for more than two weeks, consult a physician for a diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

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