National GERD Awareness Week is recognized annually during the week of Thanksgiving – a time when many Americans may experience heartburn associated with overeating and overindulging. But, if heartburn occurs more frequently, or is associated with additional symptoms, it may be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which elevates the importance of early detection and diagnosis.
Acid reflux occurs when acidic stomach contents flow back into the esophagus, the swallowing tube that leads from the back of the throat to the stomach. When acid repeatedly “refluxes” from the stomach into the esophagus alone, it is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). However, if the stomach acid travels up the esophagus and spills into the throat or voice box (called the pharynx/larynx), it is known as laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR).
While GERD and LPR can occur together, people sometimes have symptoms from GERD or LPR alone. Having symptoms twice a week or more means that GERD or LPR may be a problem that could be helped by seeing a doctor.
Many patients with LPR do not experience classic symptoms of heartburn related to GERD. And sometimes, adult patients may experience symptoms related to either GERD or LPR like:
- Frequent throat clearing or coughing
- Excess mucus
- A bitter taste
- A sensation of burning or throat soreness
- Something “stuck” or a “lump” in the back of the throat
- Hoarseness or change in voice
- Difficulty swallowing
- Drainage down the back of the nose (post-nasal drip)
- Choking episodes (can sometimes awaken from sleep)
- Difficulty breathing, if the voice box is affected
GERD and LPR can result from physical causes and/or lifestyle factors. Physical causes can include weak or abnormal muscles at the lower end of the esophagus where it meets the stomach, normally acting as a barrier for stomach contents re-entering the esophagus. Other physical causes include hiatal hernia, abnormal esophageal spasms, and slow stomach emptying. Changes like pregnancy and choices we all make daily can cause reflux as well. These choices include eating foods like chocolate, citrus, fatty foods, spicy foods or habits like overeating, eating late, lying down right after eating, and alcohol/tobacco use. GERD and LPR in infants and children may be related to causes mentioned above, or to growth and development issues.Leave a reply