As one of the most common chronic diseases in adults, the chances are that you or someone you know have suffered from acid reflux at some point in their lives. If acid reflux occurs more than twice a week, the condition is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the disorder affects not only the oesophageal tract but also the upper airways and can be associated with a wide array of symptoms. GERD risk factors are closely aligned with lifestyle choices.
Speaking to Omnia Health Insights, Dr. Mohamad Khair Ojjeh, Gastroenterologist at Medcare Hospital Dubai said, “GERD is an increasingly common condition that affects adults at almost any age. The condition develops when acid from the stomach escaped up the oesophagus, causing a burning sensation in the chest and neck. This can cause considerable discomfort and in severe cases, can even lead to tissue damage”.
One systematic review found that the prevalence of GERD in the Middle East ranged from 8.7 per cent to 33.1 per cent and is continuing to rise. The prevalence of GERD may be influenced by a wide range of factors from older age, gender, ethnic background, medications, consumption of certain types of foods and drinks, smoking, family history, excess weight and limited physical activity.
“Patients presenting with GERD typically have habits of eating large meals or lying down right after a meal. Snacking close to bedtime is also a risk factor for acid reflux. Moreover, certain types of foods can trigger excess acid production such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, spicy or fatty foods. Coffee and carbonated drinks can also cause the same effect. Certain medications that patients may be prescribed for other conditions can also increase their risk,” explained Dr. Ojjej.
Ageing, in particular, has been closely linked with GERD symptoms. As the body grows older, there are pathological changes within the gastric system, which may explain the effect, such as the weakening of sphincters. Sphincters at your oesophageal junction usually close after food passes through them. If the junction doesn't close all the way or if it opens too often, acid produced by your stomach can move up into your oesophagus.
When the acid from your stomach travels up the oesophagus, common symptoms of GERD can occur such as heartburn moving from your stomach to chest and throat, and regurgitation or a sour, bitter taste at the back of your throat. Other symptoms include bloating, burping, blood in vomit, hiccups, nausea and even dysphagia, which is the sensation of food being stuck in your throat. Some patients complain of cough, excessive phlegm, shortness of breath or asthma flare-ups, and other ENT symptoms.
Acid reflux may cause acute discomfort or pain but can have very serious, long-term complications. “Excess acidity can manifest in ulcers in the oesophagus due to its erosive effect of the lining of the tissue. In very rare circumstances, GERD can increase patients’ risk of developing pneumonia, pulmonary fibrosis, bronchial asthma, ear and sinus infections and dental caries,” Dr. Ojjej said. “In very extreme cases, GERD can lead to the formation of Barrett’s oesophagus where the oesophageal lining changes to intestinal-like mucus to cope with the chronic presence of excess acid. This change in tissue type holds the very dangerous possibility of turning into cancer. It is important to note this only develops in a very small percentage of GERD patients”.
“As with the majority of chronic diseases, the best outcomes arise from early detection and proper treatment. We encourage patients who experience common episodes of acid reflux to see their doctor for a correct diagnosis of their condition. Their doctor will also be able to advise on treatment and incorporate lifestyle changes to control the disease,” Dr. Ojjej added.
References available on request.