“There’s many a one who would be idle if hunger didn’t pinch him; but the stomach sets us to work.”
– George Eliot, pseudonym of Mary Ann (Felix Holt, ch.30)
Armies of the world believe that no soldier can march on an empty stomach. Political leaders are expected to be people of a big heart and a strong stomach, and the romantics argue that a way to man’s heart – and in some cases even a woman’s – is through the stomach. Medical professionals, ever since the time of the Ayurveda – the ancient Indian system of medicine -, have claimed that most ailments of the human body emanate from an unhealthy stomach.
The stomach, then, holds the key to a good life. However, when ailments of the stomach afflict a person, s/he loses more that an appetite.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) – Symptoms and Effects
Heartburn – not the poetic version, but the physical one – is a condition experienced by millions of people throughout the world. It is a harsh, burning sensation between the ribs and below the neck that occurs when the acids from the stomach reflux – or flow back – into the esophagus and cause considerable discomfort (vomiting, coughing, a lack of ease in swallowing food, etc.) to the person.
The cause of heartburn lies in a dysfunctional, or weak, lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a muscle at the lower end of the esophagus, which acts as a one-way valve to allow food to travel from the esophagus to the stomach.
When the LES does not do its job properly, acids from the stomach flow back into the esophagus, causing what is medically termed as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD, which has heartburn as one of its symptoms, leads to the inflammation of the esophagus and, in extreme cases, also damages the esophagus.
GERD – Causative Factors
Some people are born with a weak LES, but in most cases, their unhealthy habits are responsible for the condition.
Among the most common causative factors of GERD are:
- Excessive intake of food items that are high in fat-content
- Too much intake of spicy foods
- In some cases, undergoing medication of a certain type can also indirectly lead to GERD
- It has been observed that wearing attires that fit too close can also be a contributing factor to GERD
- Next in the list are two unhealthy habits responsible for a plethora of health problems, including GERD – tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption
- In rare cases, the LES can get damaged due to vigorous exercise, and thereby cause reflux of stomach acids into the esophagus.
Treatment for acid reflux is well developed and easily available. However, the cost of the treatment varies from country to country. In order to escape the high cost of the procedure in the US, the UK and Canada, patients from these countries prefer Costa Rica or Mexico for affordable surgery.
The treatment for GERD can be initiated at various stages. In the initial stages, acid reflux can be treated with the use of over-the-counter medication. There are medicines/medical tools available that can neutralize the acid produced in the stomach, reduce stomach-acid production or block acid production. This gives enough time for the esophagus to heal. Additionally, one can also undergo medication to increase the strength of the LES.
In case the damage to the esophagus is severe, and cannot be controlled with the use of simple medication, the patient may opt for anti-reflux surgery. A surgeon may recommend Nissen fundoplication, which is the surgery for the tightening of the LES. One may also opt for Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication (TIF), which is performed with a device called Esophyx. The device is introduced in the patient’s body trans orally (through the mouth) and used to create several tissue folds or plications to act as a replacement for the LES.
Alternatively, one may undergo a surgery that uses heat to create a scar tissue and damages specific nerves. Due to the damage to those nerves, the body does not respond to acid reflux.
GERD, in initial stages, may be curable with drugs and minor lifestyle changes. Surgery should be sought only in cases of severe, chronic esophageal reflux that you are unable to pacify with medication.