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.
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.