“Heartburn”, “Acid reflux” and “GERD”. They’re terms that get tossed around a lot, not just in the reflux community but among regular people as well. Whether it’s a heartburn commercial on TV, an unasked for anecdote from Uncle Joe about the scope of his digestive issues, or a firsthand experience, chances are these three issues have in some way been a part of your life. So why is it that we still don’t understand what these terms mean? Today we're breaking down exactly how these terms are different.
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Since it was unanimously approved by the FDA in 2012, the LINX® Reflux Management System has struggled to gain private insurance coverage. Still, there have been some big advances that makes us hopeful — here’s what we know so far.
Esophageal Cancer (EC) is one of the fastest growing cancers by incidence, and is one of the most deadly cancers in the US. According to the American Cancer Society, an estimated 17,000 new cases of esophageal cancer will be diagnosed in 2017. A large portion of those cases will be Adenocarcinoma, a type of esophageal cancer linked specifically to GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).
GERD is more than just heartburn.
GERD is a chronic, often progressive disease resulting from a weak lower esophageal sphincter that allows harmful gastric fluid to reflux into the esophagus, resulting in both pain and injury to the esophageal lining. Symptoms of GERD include heartburn and regurgitation, often associated with chronic sleep disruption, and may also include persistent cough, excessive throat clearing, hoarseness and a feeling of a “lump” in the throat. Acid reflux medications, such as Prevacid®, Nexium®, and Prilosec®, affect gastric acid production, but do not repair the sphincter defect, allowing continued reflux.
GERD can lead to cancer.
What many people don’t know is that, in many cases, GERD can lead to cancer. Patients with chronic GERD can develop a condition called Barrett’s esophagus. An estimated 15% of chronic reflux patients also have Barrett’s esophagus – a condition caused when digestive acid backs up from the stomach into the esophagus, causing damage and the growth of pre-cancerous cells. According to the National Institutes of Health, more than three million people in the U.S. have Barrett’s esophagus. When left untreated, patients with Barrett's esophagus have a 40x greater risk in developing adenocarcinoma, an aggressive form of cancer that is often fatal.
The most common symptom of esophageal cancer is a problem swallowing, with a feeling like food is stuck in the throat or chest, or even choking on food. This is often mild when it starts, and gradually worsens over time as the opening inside the esophagus gets narrower. Additional symptoms can include; weight loss without trying, chest pain, pressure or burning, worsening indigestion or heartburn, coughing or hoarseness, and bleeding in the esophagus.
Get Educated. Get Evaluated. Get Treated.
Esophageal cancer is a very real thing, and unfortunately if you’re a patient with GERD it is something you should keep on your radar. Being educated and informed about the potential risks can go a long way towards prevention and early detection. If you experience GERD symptoms more than twice a week, or continue to have symptoms and/or develop new or worsening symptoms while on medication, consult your physician about the risks of GERD and available treatment options. Your physician can discuss tests available to diagnose GERD including: endoscopy, pH testing, manometry and barium esophagram.
Choosing which anti-reflux surgery is best for you can be difficult, and where these procedures vary the most significantly is in other areas like the pros, cons, recovery details, and cost. Here’s the breakdown for Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication:
GERD is so much more than heartburn and acid reflux. Often patients use the term “acid reflux disease” as a blanket statement when they really just mean that they are experiencing heartburn. Acid reflux isn’t the same thing as GERD, so acid reflux treatment won’t be able to cure your GERD. Basically, acid reflux is an action, while GERD is the actual disease and heartburn is a symptom.
The Difference Between GERD and Acid Reflux: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease which occurs when stomach contents such as acid, food or bile flow back into your food pipe (esophagus). The backwash is what we call acid reflux and it irritates the lining of the esophagus, causing GERD. This process often results in heartburn symptoms.
Looking for Acid Reflux Treatment Centers in Tampa? Click Here.
Over 60 Million people suffer daily from chronic heartburn and prevalence of GERD symptoms have increased by over 47% in the last 10 years. Other GERD symptoms in addition to heartburn include:
- Chest Pain
- Difficulty Swallowing
- Sore Throat/Hoarseness
- Waking up choking
- Loss of smell/taste
- Frequent burping/”Wet Burps”
- Sour taste in throat
- Bad breath
- Tooth enamel erosion
If you are experiencing these symptoms, it could mean that you have GERD but remember that the only way you can know for sure is by scheduling an appointment with a gastroenterologist. Only a GI specialist can diagnose GERD and help you develop an appropriate GERD treatment plan. There are different stages of GERD and over time it can progress, which is why it’s important to talk to your doctor about the best treatment options for your specific case.