If complications of GERD, such as stricture or Barrett’s esophagus are found, treatment with PPIs also is more appropriate. However, the adequacy of the PPI treatment probably should be evaluated with a 24-hour pH study during treatment with the PPI. (With PPIs, although the amount of acid reflux may be reduced enough to control symptoms, it may still be abnormally high. Therefore, judging the adequacy of suppression of acid reflux by only the response of symptoms to treatment is not satisfactory.) Strictures may also need to be treated by endoscopic dilatation (widening) of the esophageal narrowing. With Barrett’s esophagus, periodic endoscopic examination should be done to identify pre- malignant changes in the esophagus.
If there are no symptoms or signs of complications and no suspicion of other diseases, a therapeutic trial of acid suppression with H2 antagonists often is used. If H2 antagonists are not adequately effective, a second trial, with the more potent PPIs, can be given. Sometimes, a trial of treatment begins with a PPI and skips the H2 antagonist. If treatment relieves the symptoms completely, no further evaluation may be necessary and the effective drug, the H2 antagonist or PPI, is continued. As discussed previously, however, there are potential problems with this commonly used approach, and some physicians would recommend a further evaluation for almost all patients they see.
There are problems with this approach For instance, patients who have conditions that can mimic GERD, specifically duodenal or gastric (stomach) ulcers, also can actually respond to such treatment. In this situation, if the physician assumes that the problem is GERD, the cause of the ulcer disease would be missed such as a type of infection called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDS (for example, ibuprofen ), can also cause ulcers and these conditions would be treated differently from GERD.
Despite the development of potent medications for the treatment of GERD, antacids remain a mainstay of treatment. Antacids neutralize the acid in the stomach so that there is no acid to reflux. The problem with antacids is that their action is brief. They are emptied from the empty stomach quickly, in less than an hour, and the acid then re-accumulates. The best way to take antacids, therefore, is approximately one hour after meals, webpage which is just before the symptoms of reflux begin after a meal. Since the food from meals slows the emptying from the stomach, an antacid taken after a meal stays in the stomach longer and is effective longer. For the same reason, a second dose of antacids approximately two hours after a meal takes advantage of the continuing post-meal slower emptying of the stomach and replenishes the acid-neutralizing capacity within the stomach.