Conditions In Which Patients are More Susceptible to GERD

by Todd Eisner Patient Expert

Hi everyone. Today I wanted to discuss a few interesting conditions which might make you more likely to develop GERD symptoms. By making you aware of increased risk of GERD, an early consultation with your physician will hopefully minimize your discomfort.

Many diseases and/or underlying conditions can put patients at risk for GERD. Probably the most common such condition, affecting a majority of females at some point in their lifetime, is pregnancy. Symptoms of GERD are very common in pregnancy. Acid reflux symptoms can begin at any time during a pregnancy. Usually, these symptoms grow worse as the pregnancy progresses.

Why are pregnant patients more susceptible to GERD?
Heartburn is very common during pregnancy. It occurs when hormones cause a slowing of the gastrointestinal tract. Hormones also cause the muscles that push food down the esophagus to slow down during pregnancy. In addition, as the uterus grows, it pushes on the stomach and sometimes forces stomach acid up into the esophagus.

Although heartburn is common during pregnancy, it rarely causes complications. In rare instances, inflammation of the esophagus can occur. In addition, if symptoms are so severe so that the expectant mother cannot eat, the fetus can have problems developing. Usually, GERD symptoms such as heartburn improve or disappear once the baby is born.

Treatment of GERD in Pregnancy
Heartburn treatments for pregnant women are similar to treatment for the rest of the population. Making lifestyle changes and avoiding certain nonprescription medications can provide significant relief. Pregnant women should avoid antacids that contain sodium bicarbonate because they can lead to fluid retention. Calcium containing antacids such as Tums are best used.

Prescription drugs are generally not safe in pregnancy. The only one commonly recommended is sulcrafate. Other commonly used drugs to treat GERD such as H2 blockers like Zantac and Tagamet, and Proton Pump inhibitors like Nexium and Prevacid, are still not felt to be safe in pregnancy.

Other Conditions that increase susceptibility to GERD
Patients with diseases that weaken the esophageal muscles, such as scleroderma or mixed connective tissue diseases, are more prone to develop GERD. As a result of the muscle disorder, the lower esophageal sphincter pressure (normal elevated thereby creating a barrier between the stomach and esophagus) is decreased. This results in severe GERD, where patients frequently develop narrowing of the esophagus. The narrowing is often severe enough to cause difficulty swallowing. In addition to antacids, H2 blockers and proton-pump inhibitors, these patients often need to have their esophagus stretched to allow passage of food.

Many diseases and medications used to treat diseases make patients prone to GERD.

If you experience symptoms of GERD, contact your physician to insure the best possible treatment.

Todd Eisner
Meet Our Writer
Todd Eisner

Todd wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Digestive Health.