Acid reflux refers to the backward flow of stomach acid and, sometimes, food particles from the stomach up into the esophagus. It's also called heartburn because it can cause painful burning sensations in the center of your rib cage. Acid reflux is not uncommon, and most of us experience it from time to time, especially after eating spicy or fatty foods or eating large meals. Being overweight or pregnant can also cause acid reflux. Occasional heartburn can be easily managed and is usually nothing to worry about.
GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a serious type of acid reflux disease that requires regular management to prevent permanent damage to the esophagus. In GERD, the valve between the stomach and the esophagus – called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES – becomes damaged or weakened, allowing stomach acid to travel backward into the esophagus on a regular basis. Over time, the acid can cause permanent changes in the lining of the esophagus, a condition known as Barrett's esophagus. It can also substantially increase your risk for esophageal cancer.
GERD tends to occur on a regular basis, sometimes several times a week. If you have acid reflux on a regular basis – even a few times a month – you should be evaluated to make sure your esophagus is healthy and to receive treatment that can be more effective than over-the-counter heartburn products. An endoscopy can provide pictures and video of the interior of your esophagus and the LES to look for signs of damage related to GERD.
Mild and occasional heartburn may be managed with over-the-counter products or prescription products to reduce the production of stomach acid or to neutralize it. In some cases of GERD, surgery may be needed to repair the LES
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