What’s The Difference?

Get the basics about acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD. Information from the emptying study can be useful for managing patients with GERD. For example, if a patient with GERD continues to have symptoms despite treatment with the usual medications, doctors might prescribe other medications that speed-up emptying of the stomach. Alternatively, in conjunction with GERD surgery , they might do a surgical procedure that promotes a more rapid emptying of the stomach. Nevertheless, it is still debated whether a finding of reduced gastric emptying should prompt changes in the surgical treatment of GERD.

As is often the case, the body has ways to protect itself from the harmful effects of reflux and acid. For example, most reflux occurs during the day when individuals are upright. In the upright position, the refluxed liquid is more likely to flow back down into the stomach due to the effect of gravity. In addition, while individuals are awake, they repeatedly swallow, whether or not there is reflux. Each swallow carries any refluxed liquid back into the stomach. Finally, the salivary glands in the mouth produce saliva, which contains bicarbonate. With each swallow, bicarbonate-containing saliva travels down the esophagus. The bicarbonate neutralizes the small amount of acid that remains in the esophagus after gravity and swallowing have removed most of the acidic liquid.

Ulcers of the esophagus heal with the formation of scars (fibrosis). Over time, the scar tissue shrinks and narrows the lumen (inner cavity) of the esophagus. This scarred narrowing is called a stricture. Swallowed food may get stuck in the esophagus once the narrowing becomes severe enough (usually when it restricts the esophageal lumen to a diameter of one centimeter). This situation may necessitate endoscopic removal of the stuck food. Then, to prevent food from sticking, the narrowing must be stretched (widened). Moreover, to prevent a recurrence of the stricture, reflux also must be prevented.

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.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly referred to as GERD or acid reflux, is a condition in which the liquid content of the stomach regurgitates (backs up or refluxes) into the esophagus. The liquid can inflame and damage the lining (esophagitis) although visible signs of inflammation occur in a minority of patients. The regurgitated liquid usually contains acid and pepsin that are produced by the stomach. (Pepsin is an enzyme that begins cool training the digestion of proteins in the stomach.) The refluxed liquid also may contain bile that has backed-up into the stomach from the duodenum. The first part of the small intestine attached to the stomach. Acid is believed to be the most injurious component of the refluxed liquid. Pepsin and bile also may injure the esophagus, but their role in the production of esophageal inflammation and damage is not as clear as the role of acid.

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