Every day new patients come through our doors. They’re often scared, uncertain, and in most cases confused about what’s happening to them and how it may impact the rest of their lives. Although occasional heartburn is typically shrugged off or deemed as a non-issue by many, patients who suffer from chronic reflux and heartburn understand that it can be truly debilitating.
Contrary to popular belief, reflux and heartburn aren’t a normal part of everyday life, and if you’re experiencing them on a regular basis then chances are that there’s something more serious causing it. That realization is what brings patients to our door. Acceptance is just the first stage, though. Once you’ve accepted that your symptoms may be caused by a medical condition, taking action is key, and it’s often the hardest part.
Scheduling a consult and convincing yourself to show up are the hardest part, but once you’ve made the commitment to find a solution for your chronic reflux and set your life back on track the rest of the process becomes easier. A lot of patients find that once they’re actually in front of a specialist, they’re not sure what to even say. Education is key to managing any condition, especially one like GERD, so here are some questions you should be asking during your consult to make sure you’re well on your way to understanding the diagnosis, treatment, and management stages of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease.
1. “What is GERD exactly?”
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (or GERD) is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a muscle that acts as a valve between the stomach and the esophagus. When the LES functions correctly, it opens to allow food and liquid to pass into the stomach, then closes to create a barrier between the esophagus and stomach acid. A weakened LES, which is what patients with GERD are prone to, will not close correctly and allows stomach acid to splash back into the esophagus, often causing injury to the lining of the esophagus and painful symptoms.
2. “How can I tell if I have GERD?”
Chronic reflux is one of the best indicators that a patient may have GERD. If you’re noticing that you’re refluxing 3 or more times a week, you should see a specialist. There are three main tests used to diagnose GERD, all of which we offer at Tampa Bay Reflux Center. These tests are Esophageal pH Monitoring, Endoscopy, and Manometry.
3. “What GERD treatment options are available?”
As with many conditions, there are multiple treatments for GERD with varying degrees of invasiveness. Different kinds of medications such as Antacids, H-2 Receptors Blockers, and PPI's can be effective for short-term relief of GERD symptoms, but aren’t effective for long-term treatment since they treat the symptoms rather than the root cause. Anti-reflux surgery is the only treatment option for GERD that brings lasting, long-term relief to patients suffering with GERD. We perform three anti-reflux surgeries at TBR: LINX, Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication, and Lap Nissen Fundoplication.
4. “Do I have to rely on medications or surgery?"
Surgery can be scary, and oftentimes patients are looking for quick and easy solutions to their GERD. For patients with less severe GERD, lifestyle changes and diet modification can alleviate many if not all of your symptoms. Patients with more severe GERD, however, will require more extensive treatment methods like anti-reflux surgery.
5. “How long will I need treatment?”
This is largely dependent on the severity of your condition and the methods of treatment you and your doctor select. Patients opting for pills can expect to remain on medication for the majority of their lives, since medications for reflux only provide symptom relief. Anti-reflux surgeries can effectively treat GERD for decades depending on which procedure you get. Every case is unique, and your reflux doctor will be able to better predict your personal treatment timeline once they know more about your case.
At the end of the day, GERD is an incredibly treatable condition. The most important part is finding a reflux specialist who you feel comfortable talking to, since they’ll be the one walking you through the diagnosis, treatment, and life-time management process. Schedule an appointment with the leading reflux specialists in the Tampa Bay area today!