When Does Reflux Become GERD?
Acid reflux is a very common and usually transient condition that affects virtually everybody once in a while. Also known as gastroesophageal reflux or GER, occasional reflexes nothing to be concerned about and if anything tells us what to avoid and how much to eat. At this stage, conservative options such as lifestyle change, losing weight and over-the-counter acid reflux tablets are effective options.
What About GERD?
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD is diagnosed when acid reflux becomes chronic. While there is no definitive threshold for chronic acid reflux, the rule of thumb is two or more bouts of acid reflux per week for more than four weeks.
Making the GERD Diagnosis
GERD is most commonly diagnosed by a healthcare provider based on discussing your symptoms. If you have the normal symptoms of acid reflux, but are not struggling with complications, your provider will likely recommend you begin treatment with diet and lifestyle modifications or possibly add a medication. When more advanced symptoms are present or you are not responding to treatment, it is likely that the condition is chronic and may require GERD surgery. With more severe symptoms presenting, or a worry of underlying damage, specific testing may be used to confirm a diagnosis and develop a treatment plan.
Because a common symptom of reflux is chest pain, it is wise not to ignore your symptoms and assume you know what is going on. Seeking medical attention can help you to safely rule out other causes for your pain as well as offer relief.
Is GERD Dangerous?
GERD itself is not dangerous, rather it represents a lifestyle impediment that in severe cases can even be debilitating. However, untreated GERD can, in rare cases, lead to a serious condition. A small number of GERD patients will develop what is known as Barrett’s esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus involves changes the lining of the esophagus at the cellular level. We consider this a precancerous condition because a small proportion of patients will go on to eventually develop esophageal cancer. Indeed, we believe that the rise in obesity over the past few decades has contributed to a significant increase in esophageal cancers.
What are my next Steps?
We usually find that a malfunctioning Lower Esophageal Sphincter – the muscle between the esophagus and stomach that blocks acid from refluxing – is the culprit for GERD. As a result, we offer our patients two minimally invasive options to strengthen and reinforce the LES…if medication and lifestyle change has not helped. The LINX Device represents an implant placed around LES, while fundoplication involves wrapping the upper portion of the stomach around the esophagus to offer additional support. We encourage you to contact our office to learn more.