Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Awareness: Think about the ways to change your lifestyle.

Heartburn is a quite common term in households, but the frequent occurrence of heartburn shall lead to Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is explained in terms of chronic diseases that can occur in the stomach due to the repetitive backward flow of the acid into the oesophagus which is nothing but the food pipe. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Awareness week is seen between November 21st- 27th.

This year, 2021 marks the 22nd annual GERD Awareness Week. It comes just around the time of thanksgiving. It was first initiated in November 1999 by IFFGD ( International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders). It is listed in the calendars, health observance days to promote the health concerns. The rise in awareness of GERD week provides more outcomes in terms of improving patient care. Let us study in detail regarding the GERD awareness week.

What is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when the content in the stomach gets back to the oesophagus. While many people experience GER once in a while as it may happen without prior symptoms. In a few other cases, it may cause heartburns, and forms acid indigestion. GERD is quite severe and causes repetitive symptoms and over time it leads to severe complications.

Without proper treatment, it can lead to serious complications which include esophagitis, Barrett’s oesophagus, and esophageal stricture. These mentioned complications lie within the oesophagus but, GERD develops complications outside the oesophagus as well, and that includes asthma, chronic cough, hoarseness, laryngitis, wearing away of tooth enamel.

Who is more likely to develop GERD?

Anyone can develop GERD, age has no role to play in its development. While it may be mild for a few, or some may be very risky. It has been said that it might increase after the age of 40. But you are more likely to develop if you are:

  • Overweight
  • Obese
  • Pregnant
  • Smoking or chain smoker
  • Consuming medicines that may cause acid reflux

What are the symptoms of GERD?

The most common symptoms of GERD in adults are mentioned below:

  • Heartburn
  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Food being caught in the throat
  • Problem in swallowing
  • Regurgitation
  • Vomiting
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • It also seems to be developed in infants and children, the symptoms are:

  • Frequent vomiting in smaller portions
  • They stop eating
  • Continuously crying
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Bad breath
  • They may choke frequently, which tends to keep them awake
  • Difficulties in sleeping
  • Hoarse throat

What causes GERD?

Due to the relaxation of the lower esophageal valve, acid reflux is caused. Usually, this valve shall remain closed once the food enters the stomach. If it doesn't relax, the stomach content shall continue to rise back in the oesophagus. The factors causing such conditions include the following:

  • When there is too much pressure on the abdomen. This is the reason that pregnant women experience heartburn daily due to an increase in pressure on the tummy.
  • It is caused due to consumption of certain foods, like dairy products, spicy food, and fried foods. It depends on the food habits as well.
  • For Asthma, high blood pressure, pain killers, sedatives, and antidepressants, some medicines induce acid reflux.
  • In the case of Hiatal Hernia, the upper part of the stomach bulges into the diaphragm, which disturbs the normal intake of food.

Prevalence of GERD- in India

The Indian Society of Gastroenterology studied the prevalence of GERD followed by its risk factors:

  • As per the study conducted by Bhatia, over 3224 patients from rural and urban areas, 7.6% had a prevalence of GERD.
  • Among the pregnant women of count 400, 9.5% had a prevalence of GERD in the first trimester and 50% in the second and third trimesters.
  • Certain studies emphasize that the prevalence of GERD in India is between 8%-19%

As India is a multi-linguistic society, it comes as a challenge to conduct studies on epidemiology. While most of the metropolitan areas speak Hindi and English, the other large significant population speaks in local languages. It requires word-to-word translation, and that translation may lose the exact meaning of the word.

Though there are several studies conducted in India to enhance the understanding of GERD. There is a gap of knowledge regarding the disease. Future studies on GERD should address these gaps through the awareness week. The GERD prevalence should be based on the population followed by the risk factors.

Why is GERD Awareness Week important?

These are a few of the tips to create awareness for GERD among your circle of contact:

  • The awareness campaign will help you save a life
  • One may be suffering even without realizing it, because of a lack of awareness of the disease. Over time, it may lead to precancerous conditions, though you may be perfectly healthy, this awareness shall help you spread about GERD among your social circle, this could help save a life by encouraging them to seek medical help immediately.

  • Getting conscious of food intake
  • Highly acidic foods shall possibly trigger the symptom of GERD. Use this week as an opportunity to educate your family about the role of diet that affects the lifestyle. It may help one to prevent GERD-related health issues.

  • Enhance the quality of life
  • By learning about the intake of food, one can balance a healthier lifestyle. To heal your body over time and control your symptoms of GERD, it is necessary to make the changes for a good cause. Be open to talking to your doctor as and when you come across the symptoms. Focus on enjoying your life to the fullest by making healthy habits, as it enhances your quality of life.

How to prevent GERD?

There are many preventive measures to prevent GERD, here are a few tips that will help to prevent GERD

  • Lose Weight: One of the leading causes of GERD is obesity. The stomach fat puts pressure over the abdomen and pushes the gastric juice upwards. Maintain your weight as per the norms of your height.
  • Avoid food causing acid reflux: On the symptoms of GERD, one must avoid mint, fatty and spicy foods, chocolates, beverages, coffee, citrus fruits.
  • Take smaller meals: While one tends to eat larger portions, there is pressure on the stomach and that creates acid reflux.
  • Do not sleep after a meal: It is always good to wait at least three hours after the meal to lie down or sleep. Normal gravity helps to prevent the acid from developing. If you tend to lie down after the meal, acid easily passes through the oesophagus.
  • Raise your bed: The gap between your head to bed should be a minimum of 6-8 inches to help the gravity to keep the acid down in your stomach. Though it is not recommended to use extra pillows, try using wedge-shaped supports.
  • Check your medication: The intake of medicine is the real culprit of GERD in certain cases. They increase the risk of GERD, interfere in the process of digestion, and also irritate the inflamed oesophagus. Try consulting your doctor to avoid the risk factor.
  • Start with gluten-free food: Studies have shown that gluten causes GERD, it is present in grains like barley, wheat, and rye. To see a difference in your health, try avoiding such foods.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking is one of the key factors which increase the risk aspect of GERD, it has been found that the nicotine element present in tobacco interferes with the ability of saliva to clear out the acid from the oesophagus.
  • Avoid Drinking: Just like smoking, consumption of alcohol causes the LES to relax, as alcohol can cause muscle spasms in the oesophagus.
  • Wear loose clothes: Last but not least, avoid clothing that constricts your stomach, holding it very tight. Wear loose clothes to let your stomach do its job.

GERD awareness week is dedicated to people suffering from acid reflux and most importantly to bringing awareness regarding the same. GERD affects about 18 million of the world's population every year. Those knowing its impact must have gone through a painful time. If left untreated, GERD causes damage to the oesophagus. The diagnosis for GERD begins with the analysis of the initial symptoms of the patient. The treatment shall be decided by the medical professionals, though in some cases it can be cured through the change in lifestyle as mentioned above, while in some cases it may require surgery.

GERD awareness week was established in November 1999, to develop communities and raise events regarding health issues. The more the awareness in public, the sooner it will be its relief. It also brings awareness of oesophagal cancer that is caused due to GERD.

Very Little is known about GERD, in India. But the fact is that the prevalence of GERD and its risk factor is estimated to be high. In a progressing society, there are a lot of changes in lifestyle, which is the key factor to cause GERD. With a better understanding of the disease and with awareness it is very much possible to target the disease in India. The phrase “Prevention is better than curing” has more weightage for the GERD awareness week.