You probably recall a time after a big meal when your esophagus felt on fire. It appears that the diaphragm that surrounds the LES is important in preventing reflux. That is, in individuals without hiatal hernias, the diaphragm surrounding the esophagus is continuously contracted, but then relaxes with swallows, just like the LES. Note that the effects of the LES and diaphragm occur at the same location in patients without hiatal hernias. Therefore, the barrier to reflux is equal to the sum of the pressures generated by the LES and the diaphragm. When the LES moves into the chest with a hiatal hernia, the diaphragm and the LES continue to exert their pressures and barrier effect. However, they now do so at different locations. Consequently, the pressures are no longer additive. Instead, a single, high-pressure barrier to reflux is replaced by two barriers of lower pressure, and reflux thus occurs more easily. So, decreasing the pressure barrier is one way that a hiatal hernia can contribute to reflux.
The acid perfusion test, however, is used only rarely. A better test for correlating pain and acid reflux is a 24-hour esophageal pH or pH capsule study during which patients note when they are having pain. It then can be determined from the pH recording if there was an episode of acid reflux at the time of the pain. This is the preferable way of deciding if acid reflux is causing a patient’s pain. It does not work well, however, for patients who have infrequent pain, for example every two to three days, which may be missed by a one or two day pH study. In these cases, an acid perfusion test may be reasonable.
Who should consider surgery or, perhaps, an endoscopic treatment trial for GERD? (As mentioned previously, the effectiveness of the recently developed endoscopic treatments remains to be determined.) Patients should consider surgery if they have regurgitation that cannot be controlled with drugs. This recommendation is particularly important if the regurgitation results in for beginners infections in the lungs or occurs at night when aspiration into the lungs is more likely. Patients also should consider surgery if they require large doses of PPI or multiple drugs to control their reflux. It is debated whether or not a desire to be free of the need to take life-long drugs to prevent symptoms of GERD is by itself a satisfactory reason for having surgery.
The amount of time that the esophagus contains acid is determined by a test called a 24-hour esophageal pH test (pH is a mathematical way of expressing the amount of acidity.) For this test, a small tube (catheter) is passed through the nose and positioned in the esophagus. On the tip of the catheter is a sensor that senses acid. The other end of the catheter exits from the nose, wraps back over the ear, and travels down to the waist, where it is attached to a recorder. Each time acid refluxes back into the esophagus from the stomach, it stimulates the sensor and the recorder records the episode of reflux. After a 20 to 24 hour period of time, the catheter is removed and the record of reflux from the recorder is analyzed.
Antacids may be aluminum, magnesium, or calcium based. Calcium-based antacids (usually calcium carbonate ), unlike other antacids, stimulate the release of gastrin from the stomach and duodenum. Gastrin is the hormone that is primarily responsible for the stimulation of acid secretion by the stomach. Therefore, the secretion of acid rebounds after the direct acid-neutralizing effect of the calcium carbonate is exhausted. The rebound is due to the release of gastrin, which results in an overproduction of acid. Theoretically at least, this increased acid is not good for GERD.