GERD (Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease)
GERD occurs when stomach contents travel from the stomach into the esophagus (against gravity). This condition occurs due to a weak (incompetent) sphincter muscle at the end of the esophagus that doesn’t close tightly. It is a common condition that is exacerbated when a hiatal hernia is present (as it is in 70% of the population over age 60). The symptoms include heartburn (burning sensation in the chest), bitter taste in the mouth, indigestion, possible hoarseness and coughing occasionally. Heartburn that occurs once per month is normal, but occurring many times per week is not normal. This situation requires treatment. If reflux is chronic, damage can be done to the esophagus causing scarring and structuring, leading to trouble swallowing, especially solid foods. That is a sign that the esophagus may require dilation. A small percentage of GERD patients (under 2%) will develop Barrett’s Esophagus from constant injury to the esophageal lining. About 0.5% per year of these patients will develop esophageal cancer.
It is generally recommended that anyone who has frequent or daily heartburn for a few years have endoscopy to assess their esophagus to rule out ulcers or Barrett’s Esophagus. If at that time, no damage is found, the patient is unlikely to develop these complications in the future.