10 Questions to Ask Your Doctor about Acid Reflux

Editor

What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a chronic digestive condition where the lower esophageal sphincter or muscles fail to work properly. As a result, gastric acids from the stomach flow backwards up into the esophagus (an action called reflux). This action irritates the esophagus and causes different reflux symptoms.

How did I get reflux?

Acid reflux can be caused by a variety of reasons, from genetic factors to physical abnormalities. Sometimes it’s unclear what exactly causes acid reflux in a person. Know that every case is different and there may not be one specific cause.

What are the common symptoms?

Similar to causes, symptoms vary for each person. Common symptoms include heartburn, regurgitation, abdominal pain, bloating, easily feeling full, nausea and dry cough. Takes notes on the symptoms experienced and share them at doctor appointments.

How do I get tested?

One of the best tests to determine acid reflux is an endoscopy. This is when a flexible tube with a camera is inserted down the throat to take pictures of the esophagus and a tissue biopsy can be performed. Other tests include an ambulatory acid test to measure the amount of acid in the stomach over a 24-hour period. X-rays may be required as well.

Are there any complications?

When left untreated, acid reflux can lead to serious and even life-threatening complications. It can increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer, erosive esophagitis, bleeding and narrowing of the esophagus, called strictures, among others.

Can I get better?

By making the appropriate diet and lifestyle changes and following a treatment regimen, acid reflux is manageable.  Symptoms usually improve over time. Most patients are able to live a normal, healthy life.

What are my treatment options?

Medications are the most common type of acid reflux treatment. Patients usually try H-2 blockers, which block histamine at the receptor side of the parietal cell; protein pump inhibitors (PPIs) that block the proton pump’s ability to make stomach acid; and antacids that neutralize stomach acid. For people with more advanced or severe acid reflux, surgical options are available.

Do I need to change my diet?

All acid reflux patients need to alter their diet to avoid trigger foods that exacerbate symptoms. Some of these foods include spicy foods and acidic foods, such as tomatoes, citrus and chocolate. Certain beverages should also be limited or avoided, including coffee, alcohol and caffeinated drinks.  Patients need to work with their doctors to determine which foods act as triggers for their body.

Are there other lifestyle changes to make?

To help ease symptoms patients should quit smoking and avoid wearing tight clothing. People with nighttime reflux should avoid eating late at night and laying down right after a meal. Eat small, healthy meals throughout the day and maintain a healthy weight.

How often do I need to see my doctor?

This depends on the doctor and the patient. In the beginning, patients may need to see their doctor more frequently until their acid reflux is well managed. There is a lot of trial and error when figuring out the right course of treatment. Once acid reflux is controlled, patients most likely won’t see their doctor as often but will still have follow-ups when needed.