GERD: More Than Heartburn


Which of the following are signs and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)?

  1. Chronic cough
  2. Wheezing
  3. Heartburn
  4. All of the above

    The answer is 4, all of the above.

Although heartburn is the signature sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), these other symptoms are also common manifestations. GERD is caused by a glitch in the esophageal sphincter, the ring-like muscle at the bottom of the esophagus. Like a one-way valve, it opens when you eat or drink to allow food and liquids into the stomach, but most of the time it remains closed to prevent stomach contents from backing up into the esophagus. Unfortunately, this muscle occasionally relaxes enough to allow reflux, or backward flow, of gastric acid to spill into the esophagus.

Gastric acid is potent stuff. With a pH of 1-3, it could eat right through your skin. But while your stomach and intestines are shielded by a dense layer of mucus that allows them to tolerate a high degree of acidity, your esophagus lacks this protective lining. So, even small amounts of corrosive acid in the esophagus can cause heartburn and other problems.

Chronic Cough. Acid reflux irritates the esophagus and can stimulate the cough reflex. Although few people are aware of it, GERD is the third most common cause of “unexplained” chronic cough.

Wheezing. When these strong acids get into the airways, they cause inflammation and irritation. Studies suggest that untreated GERD may be a significant cause of asthma, and that a majority of adults with asthma also suffer from GERD.

Chest Pain. Many a patient has called an ambulance or rushed to the ER with intense chest pain, believing they’re having a heart attack—only to be told their pain was caused by the caustic action of acid in the esophagus.

Other Symptoms. Chronic hoarseness, laryngitis, and throat clearing; recurrent sore throats, ear, and sinus infections; difficulty swallowing; and dental erosions can all be caused by GERD.

Natural Solutions. Most doctors prescribe acid-suppressing drugs such as Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid. These pricey drugs do provide symptomatic relief, but they don’t address the underlying problem. In most cases, GERD can be controlled with weight loss, avoidance of problematic foods and overeating, and deglycyrrhizinated licorice (DGL), an inexpensive supplement that is remarkable effective at improving GERD symptoms. The suggested dose of one or two tablets, chewed 20 minutes before meals. Look for it in health food stores or order from the clinic by calling 800-810-6655.

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