GERD Awareness Week: November 20-26, 2016

November 21, 2016

This week is the annual GERD Awareness Week. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, like IBS, falls under the broad category of functional gastrointestinal and motility disorders, and many people with IBS also have GERD. According to About.com IBS Guide Barbara Bradley Bolen, PhD, some studies show that over 70% of people with IBS report some symptoms of GERD and vice versa, but that among those with actual diagnoses, the overlap rate ranges from about one-quarter to one-third. GERD occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter, the valve connecting the esophagus to the stomach, fails to close completely and consistently when needed, and stomach acids and digested food inappropriately back up into the esophagus on a recurring basis. GERD is estimated to affect at least 20% of American adults, both men and women. GERD also commonly affects children of all ages, including infants. A wide variety of lifestyle factors, medical conditions and medication side effects are thought to be possible factors in causing or exacerbating GERD.

Symptoms vary from person to person and are not restricted to heartburn. Some people may not have noticeable symptoms at all until they experience complications. Some other possible symptoms of GERD are: belching, coughing, hoarseness, difficulty or pain in swallowing, excessive saliva, the sensation of food sticking in the esophagus,  chronically sore or irritated throat, laryngitis, inflammation of the gums, erosion of tooth enamel, bitter taste in the mouth, and bad breath. Chest pain may also be a symptom of GERD, but should receive immediate medical attention to rule out the possibility of cardiac problems or other serious conditions. Other possible symptoms of GERD occurring more than once a week or the need to use non-prescription heartburn/reflux medications for more than two weeks without resolution should be discussed with a doctor.

Relative to other functional gastrointestinal and motility disorders, GERD is generally considered by physicians and many affected people to be quite treatable by a variety of lifestyle and diet modifications, prescription medications and/or surgery. Many people have mild GERD and, with appropriate medical care, are at low risk of serious complications, but untreated GERD can lead to inflammation, erosion or narrowing of the esophagus or, in a small percentage of cases, Barrett’s esophagus, cell changes that heighten the risk of esophageal cancer. According to a brief extract of a longer IFFGD publication by Carlo DiLorenzo, M.D. of Children’s Hospital of Columbus and Ohio State University, Dr. Mark Glassman, MD of Sound Shore Medical Center in New Rochelle, New York, and Paul Hyman, M.D. of Children’s Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana, some children with GERD and other conditions such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, abnormal lung development due to premature birth, muscle or nerve disorders affecting swallowing, or esophageal dysplasia, are at risk of GERD complicating those conditions.

Please see the following links for further information and resources and the original source for Drs. DiLorenzo, Glassman and Hyman’s work mentioned above.  IFFGD also offers downloadable GERD, IBS and functional GI and motility disorder awareness brochures and posters for anyone to hang or distribute in his or her own community, that are accessible from the IFFGD links posted here. As American Thanksgiving is approaching this week, readers may find IFFGD’s holiday GERD-reducing tips to be particularly useful.

 GERD Awareness Week section from the IFFGD About GERD website

Pediatric GERD section from the IFFGD About Kids  GI website

Medline Plus page on GERD  (subunit of the U.S. National Institutes of Health)

In addition to encouraging accurate awareness of irritable bowel syndrome, IBS Impact encourages awareness of related conditions that are known to often overlap with IBS, as improvement in symptom management, treatment options, public awareness and social resources may have overlapping positive effects that improve quality of life for some people with IBS. With the high prevalence of GERD in the general public, many people who are not otherwise aware of or who do not take particular interest in functional gastrointestinal and motility disorders may actually have GERD or be close to someone who does. This is another opportunity to educate them about GERD and about FGIMDs in general as issues that do indeed involve them.


Veterans with IBS and Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders 2016

November 11, 2016

Today, November 11, is Veterans Day in the U.S., and a good time to highlight veterans’ issues. U.S. veterans  and current military service members who have been deployed in the Persian Gulf/Southwest Asia region at any time since 1990 have been shown by multiple studies to be at even higher risk of IBS and other functional GI disorders than the general population. Conservative estimates put the incidence of functional GI disorders in the general population as 25%, most commonly irritable bowel syndrome. For veterans and military service members of the Persian Gulf era, the estimate may reach as high as 40%. This appears to be in part because of the high incidence of known functional GI risk factors during active duty, such as severe stress or trauma and/or food or water contamination that results in post-infectious IBS  (IBS-PI) or other post-infectious functional GI and motility disorders.

Here is IBS Impact’s August 12, 2011 post on the recognition four years ago by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs of irritable bowel syndrome and functional gastrointestinal disorders as presumptive service connected disabilities for Gulf War veterans.

IFFGD has done considerable work in the past several years in advocating for federal funding and other legislative needs specific to veterans, conducting outreach to service members and veterans and encouraging those affected by functional GI and motility disorders to participate in veteran-specific self-advocacy efforts. Since fiscal year 2012, functional GI disorders have been included in the Department of Defense Gulf War Illness Research Program, which is part of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program. However, advocacy from the veteran community and supporters must occur on an ongoing basis for funding to be continued each fiscal year. Interest in veteran issues has been one reason for Congressional support of the Functional Gastrointestinal and Motility Disorders Research Enhancement Act of 2015, HR 2311, currently in the House of Representatives, aimed toward improving the lives of affected veterans and civilians alike, and must continue to build.

As this blog reported on January 20, 2014, the depth of need for further awareness, services, support, and research in the veteran community is not necessarily well known even within the Department of Defense or other military entities, the media or the general public. The post linked in the second paragraph of this post about the recognition of IBS and other functional GI disorders as presumptive service-connected disabilities, more than five years after original publication, has continued to receive consistent hits from readers nearly every day. By an extremely wide margin, from the inception of this blog in mid-2011 through 2015, it was the #1 most read individual post, of over 200 cumulative posts on this blog. It was also the #1 most read post for each individual year.  Not until the release of the Rome IV international diagnostic criteria in late May of this year, did it drop to #2 on the all-time and 2016-to-date lists.Clearly, a very strong need exists for information and resources on this topic. It is hoped that given the relatively higher impact of functional GI disorders among veterans and service members, and their relatively higher profile as a constituent group, any advances on behalf of the affected veterans and service members will eventually carry over to people with functional GI disorders in general.

IBS Impact encourages veterans, service members and families in the IBS and functional GI community, as well as those who support them,  to familiarize themselves with the issues and resources, and to consider participating in self-advocacy activities. We look forward to feedback from readers as to how IBS Impact may be able to support such efforts further.