Symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
For people who have GERD, the most common symptom is frequent heartburn, a sharp, burning pain in your chest or abdomen. Other common symptoms include:
- Regurgitation (backward flow) of partially digested food or stomach acid
- Chest pain, which can mimic a heart attack
- Difficulty swallowing
- Nausea or vomiting
- Dry cough or hoarseness
Henry Ford: Our diagnostic process for GERD
Your physician may be able to confirm a diagnosis of GERD based on your symptoms, especially if you have heartburn regularly. Other tests that our gastroenterology specialists may recommend for you include:
- Esophageal pH monitoring to measure the levels of acid in your esophagus over time
- Manometry test to evaluate how well the muscles in your esophagus are working
- Barium swallow test using a contrast material and X-rays to produce images of your esophagus
- Endoscopy using a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera and instruments to examine the lining of your esophagus
Treatment options for GERD
At Henry Ford, you can expect the latest, most advanced treatment options from our experienced team. Our goal is to:
- Relieve your symptoms
- Treat the causes of LES problems
- Heal the esophagus
Lifestyle changes to manage GERD symptoms
Our GI team brings together many specialties to work with you on lifestyle changes that can relieve your symptoms.
You meet with our registered dietitians and other specialists who discuss your symptoms and provide expert guidance in making long-lasting, effective changes. Learn more about our education and support for people who have GERD and other GI disorders.
Among the lifestyle changes we may recommend are:
- Weight loss
- Loose-fitting clothing around your abdomen to avoid pressure on your stomach, which can push acid up into your esophagus
- Upright posture for 3 hours after meals
- A slight angle for sleeping, by raising the head of your bed by a few inches
- Smoking cessation
Medications to treat GERD
Our skilled gastroenterologists (specialists in treating disorders affecting the digestive tract) design a treatment plan that’s best for you. We start with over-the-counter medications and can also prescribe medications that relieve GERD symptoms. We may recommend one or more of the following:
- Antacids such as Maalox and Rolaids to reduce stomach acid
- H2 blockers like Tagamet, Zantac or Pepcid to reduce stomach acid production
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as Prilosec and Prevacid that block stomach acid production
Surgery for GERD
If lifestyle adjustments and medication aren’t enough to control your symptoms, or if you cannot take medications for a long time, surgery may be the best treatment option for you.
We offer a minimally invasive procedure called Nissen fundoplication. This laparoscopic surgery involves only 3 to 4 small incisions to tighten the LES. You will need general anesthesia and a brief hospital stay for this procedure.
A second surgery option uses a small flexible band of titanium beads that allow the muscles in the esophagus to expand and contract during eating. The procedure lasts about 45 minutes and you either go home the same day or the next. The beads are called the Linx device.
Complications of GERD
If left untreated, GERD can lead to several serious complications, including:
- A narrowing of the esophagus: Continued acid reflux into the esophagus can cause scar tissue to develop, which narrows the opening and causes difficulty swallowing.
- Esophageal ulcers: Stomach acid in the esophagus can cause open sores in the lining of the esophagus, causing bleeding and pain.
- Barrett’s esophagus: Over time, the lining of the esophagus can change in response to long-term exposure to stomach acid. These tissue changes can lead to cancer of the esophagus.
- Respiratory problems: People who have GERD may inhale stomach acid into their lungs, causinghoarseness, coughing, asthma, pneumonia and related conditions.