Many people don’t consider the heartburn they sometimes get to be a major problem, much less one that requires surgery. But those that have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may have a different opinion, since this problem can cause constant and painful heartburn.
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This condition is the result of the backup of stomach contents into the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. Under normal circumstances, there is a valve (the lower esophageal sphincter) that will keep these two structures separated. When this valve abnormally relaxes, you get this back flow of stomach contents, including the acid found in the stomach.
This acid works to irritate the esophagus and can sometimes cause sores and lesions. The symptom associated with this backup and irritation is known as “heartburn” (who knew it has nothing to do with the heart actually burning!). For more information on the basic physiology of GERD, visit the gastroesophageal reflux disease page on Wikipedia.
If you are experiencing heartburn and feel you may have GERD, you should first talk to your doctor to see what is causing the problem. You may or may not be able to control the symptoms of GERD by changing some of your lifestyle habits. If you are experiencing mild GERD on a regular basis, you can try to eat smaller, more frequent meals.This will prevent the stomach from being so full that backup of the stomach acid takes place. Also, you can try to always eat at least two hours before you are going to bed or nap. Being upright can facilitate the stomach acid staying where it belongs. Lastly, it is always a good idea not to smoke or eat foods that can aggravate GERD. See a list of foods to avoid here.
For those who do not find relief going with the at-home remedies mentioned above, antacids might give you some benefit and relief from your symptoms. If you don’t find they work, your doctor may prescribe a medication that will work better than normal antacids.
When all of these have failed, there is another option: GERD surgery. This is a treatment that is only meant for the most extreme of cases and is not always 100% successful. In fact, anywhere from 60-90% of patients feel they see an improvement in their system. Moreover, there are sometimes side effects that should be considered when surgery is on the table as an option.
Surgery Option: Fundoplication
When medicine and other treatments have not worked, fundoplication is sometimes used to
Gerd by Heartburn
treat GERD. This is a GERD surgery where the anterior (top) part of the stomach is attached around the esophagus. This helps to strengthen the valve between the esophagus and stomach. Two options for this type of surgery are partial or full fundoplication. Full involves the complete attachments of the stomach to the esophagus, while partial only involves attachment of a part of the stomach. Most GERD fundoplication surgeries are full.
While a lot of people do get relief using fundoplication, there is some debate as to when it should be used, since there are side effects associated with the procedure. These side effects include increase flatulence, trouble swallowing and the inability to belch. Whatever treatment option you use, always be aware that you are going to have to weigh the positives and the negatives of the procedure/treatment. No problem will be fixed with absolutely zero side effects.
As you decide what to do about your heartburn, keep in mind that you are going need to try to change your lifestyle as a first choice, over-the-counter medicine as a second, prescription drugs as a third and GERD surgery as a last result. For more information about GERD surgery, see the Health.com GERD surgery page.