Esophageal Reflux: GERD Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

University Hospitals board-certified doctors and surgeons are leaders in diagnosing, managing and treating esophageal reflux and other digestive disorders. Our digestive experts work closely with patients and other physicians to provide treatment for immediate and long-term needs. We educate patients on how to manage esophageal reflux to reduce the risk of serious issues over time such as Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer.

Offering the Latest Diagnostics for Esophageal Reflux

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, our digestive health experts offer the following tests for patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease:

  • Esophageal manometry: This test determines if your esophagus can move food through your digestive tract and if your valve, called the esophageal sphincter, is working properly to prevent reflux of gastric acid.
  • Acid reflux pH test and monitoring: This procedure monitors or measures how much stomach acid is entering the esophagus.
  • Impedance testing: This test determines if fluid refluxes up from the stomach and can detect non-acidic fluid that may escape detection on an acid reflux pH test.
  • Upper endoscopy: Also called an esophagogastroduodenoscopy or EGD, this procedure uses a scope to examine the lining of the esophagus, stomach and the small intestine, if necessary.
  • Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series: Also called a barium swallow, this test uses a compound that will show up on x-ray to identify areas of abnormalities that affect swallowing or cause pain.
  • Gastric emptying test: This is a nuclear medicine test to assess the adequacy of gastric emptying, which is a problem in some patients with severe GERD.

After a thorough analysis of test results, our GI specialists at University Hospitals can confirm the diagnosis and also check for complications or additional issues.

Determining the Right Esophageal Reflux Treatment

If you are diagnosed with esophageal reflux, your specialized team will determine the right treatment based on the following factors:

  • Extent of your condition
  • Your age, overall health and medical history
  • Your personal preferences or specific goals
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies

In addition lifestyle changes, such as the reflux esophagitis diet, maybe in combination with antacids, your doctor may recommend using over-the-counter medicines called H2-blockers or protein pump inhibitors. These medications were once only available by prescription. Now they are available as over-the-counter drugs that can be taken before eating to prevent heartburn from occurring.

H2 blockers suppress gastric acid by blocking the acid-producing cells and proton pump inhibitors limit the production of hydrochloric acid (HCL). Proton pump inhibitors should not be taken long-term without proper medical evaluation. It’s important for patients on protein pump inhibitors to be screened periodically to avoid issues such as lack of mineral absorption or bone density concerns.

In serious cases, a promotility medication, which helps to empty food from the stomach, may be prescribed by your doctor. Other acid reflux treatment options for patients with esophageal reflux include a surgical procedure called fundoplication may be performed to tighten the sphincter muscle and prevent reflux.

Understanding Your Risk of Esophageal Reflux

With extreme heartburn or esophageal reflux, stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. This acidic fluid causes inflammation and damage to the esophagus, as well as the lungs and larynx.

Many lifestyle factors can result in a higher risk of esophageal reflux. When left untreated, esophageal reflux may result in serious complications like narrowing of the opening of the esophagus or more advanced diseases such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Esophageal reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease causes include:

  • Consuming alcohol
  • Consuming certain foods, such as citrus, chocolate, fatty and spicy foods
  • Drinking caffeine
  • Overeating and eating late at night
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Obesity or being overweight

Awareness of your own risk factors is key. Managing those you can control will help lower your risk of esophageal reflux or other more serious diseases of the digestive tract.

Managing Esophageal Reflux Through Diet and Lifestyle

An active lifestyle can make a meaningful impact on your digestive and overall health. In addition, we encourage patients to make simple dietary changes to better manage esophageal reflux, including:

  • Avoid foods and beverages that trigger acid reflux and heartburn:
    • Alcohol
    • Carbonated beverages
    • Cheese
    • Chocolate
    • Citrus, including juices
    • Coffee, both regular and decaf
    • Fatty foods: marbled steak, fried foods and high-fat sweets such as pastries
    • Garlic
    • High-fat dairy
    • Nuts
    • Onions
    • Peppermint
    • Spicy foods
    • Tomatoes
    • Tea

Simple lifestyle changes can also improve your digestive health. We encourage patients to consider the following to reduce reflux symptoms:

  • Avoid eating large meals or eating late at night.
  • Do not lie down to go to bed right after a meal. Instead, try to wait a few hours.
  • Eat smaller portions.
  • Elevate the head of the bed 6 inches.
  • Lose weight, if necessary.
  • Monitor the medications you are taking as some may irritate the lining of the stomach or esophagus.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Take an antacid, as needed and as directed by your doctor.

Learn More about Esophageal Reflux Diagnosis and Treatment

If you would like to learn more about reflux issues or how to improve your digestive health, contact one of our team members at a location close to you.

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