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The basics of gastric reflux

Acid reflux disease, also goes by the names of the gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), acid reflux, or gastric reflux. In this condition, the affected person suffers from various levels of damage to the mucous walls of the esophagus, which is caused by abnormal reflux of stomach content into the esophagus. This is caused by irregularities in function of the lower esophageal sphincter. This is a circular smooth muscle that is located at the end of the esophagus, where it is connected to the stomach. Its role is to close the esophagus and prevent passage of stomach content back up, towards the esophagus and the mouth. If it cannot close the esophagus effectively, acidic stomach content can reflux into the esophagus. Walls of the esophagus are not acid resistant as are walls of the stomach, and the acid burns and injures them. Beside the sphincter weakness, gastric reflux can be caused by hiatus hernia as well. If the function of the upper esophageal sphincter is also impaired, then it is possible for the refluxed stomach content to reach the throat, which can lead to laryngopharyngeal reflux disease.

Symptoms

Typical symptoms of gastric reflux are heartburn, regurgitation, pain in the chest which is similar to pain felt from a heart attack. Some people also experience difficulty in swallowing, a condition known as dysphagia. Unnatural, too intense salivation and a feeling of nausea are also common followers of gastroesophageal reflux disease. If untreated, gastric reflux will repeatedly damage the esophagus and this will frequently lead to a number of other conditions. These include Barrett’s esophagus inducing metaplasia, a disease where the type of the lining of the esophagus changes, or a rare form of cancer known as esophageal adenocarcinoma, or reflux esophagitis, where the lining of the esophagus dies off (the process of necrosis) and leaves ulcers in the area of the sphincter, or esophageal strictures, narrowing of the esophageal passage due to inflammation, which makes it hard to drink or swallow bits.

Some symptoms are not strictly caused by gastric reflux, but might be associated with this disorder. These include persistent cough and hoarseness of the throat, asthma and wheezing and slow destruction of tooth enamel.

Symptoms in children

These include frequent vomiting, spitting, excessive crying and breathing complications. Some children will display frequent belching or burping, foul breath and unexplained weight-loss.

Diagnosis and treatment

Tests focused on diagnosis of gastric reflux include specific tests and revision of the patient's medical history. Treatment is focused on prevention of occurrence of reflux by adopting a healthier lifestyle and altering the diet so that bad eating habits and foods known to cause gastric reflux are avoided.

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