Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Is defined as chronic symptoms or mucosal damage produced by the abnormal reflux of gastric contents into the esophagus.
This is commonly due to transient or permanent changes in the barrier between the esophagus and the stomach. This can be due to incompetence of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), transient LES relaxation, impaired expulsion of gastric reflux from the esophagus, or association with a hiatal hernia.

a. Heartburn ( burning discomfort behind the breastbone (sternum)).
b. Esophagitis (reflux esophagitis) (inflammatory changes in the esophageal lining (mucosa) )
c. Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), and chronic chest pain.
Atypical symptoms of GERD include cough, hoarseness, changes of the voice, chronic ear ache, acute sharp chest pains, or sinusitis.

GERD in children may cause repeated vomiting, effortless spitting up, coughing, and other respiratory problems. Inconsolable crying, failure to gain adequate weight, refusing food and bad breath are also common. Children may have one symptom or many — no single symptom is universally present in all children with GERD.It is it estimated that of the approximately 8 million babies born in the U.S. each year, upwards of 35% of them may have difficulties with reflux in the first few months of their life. A majority of those children will outgrow their reflux by their first birthday, however, a small but significant number of them will not outgrow the condition.
Babies' Immature digestive systems are usually the cause, and most infants stop having acid reflux by the time they reach their first birthday.

A detailed history taking is vital to the diagnosis:
  • Useful investigations may include barium swallow X-rays, esophageal manometry, 24 hour esophageal pH monitoring and Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD).
    In general, an EGD is done when the patient does not respond well to treatment, or has alarm symptoms including: dysphagia, anemia, blood in the stool (detected chemically), wheezing, weight loss, or changes in the voice. Some physicians advocate once in a lifetime endoscopy for patients with longstanding GERD, to evaluate for the presence of Barrett's esophagus, a precursor lesion for esophageal adenocarcinoma.Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) (a form of endoscopy) involves the insertion of a thin scope through the mouth and throat into the esophagus and stomach (often while the patient is sedated) in order to assess the internal surface of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum.
  • Biopsies can be performed during gastroscopy and these may show Edema and basal hyperplasia (non-specific inflammatory changes)
  • Neutrophilic inflammation (usually either reflux or Helicobacter gastritis)
  • Lymphocytic inflammation (non-specific)
  • Elongation of the papillae
  • Eosinophilic inflammation (usually due to reflux)
  • Thinning of the squamous cell layer
  • Dysplasia or pre-cancer
  • Carcinoma
  • Goblet cell intestinal metaplasia or Barretts esophagus

Having GERD indicates incompetence of the lower esophageal sphincter. Increased acidity or production of gastric acid can contribute to the problem, as can obesity, tight-fitting clothes and pregnancy. It is also thought that yeast infections of the digestive tract can cause GERD-like symptoms.Another paradoxical cause of GERD-like symptoms is not enough stomach acid (hypochlorhydria). The valve that empties the stomach into the intestines is triggered by acidity. If there is not enough acid, this valve does not open and the stomach contents are churned up into the esophagus. There is still enough acidity to cause irritation to the esophagus.
Factors that can contribute to GERD areHiatus hernia, which increases the likelihood of GERD due to mechanical and motility factors.
Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, which can be present with increased gastric acidity due to gastrin production.
Hypercalcemia, which can increase gastrin production, leading to increased acidity.
Scleroderma and systemic sclerosis, which can feature esophageal dysmotility.

The rubric "lifestyle modifications" is the term physicians use when recommending non-pharmaceutical treatments for GERD.
A 2006 review suggested that evidence for most dietary interventions is anecdotal; only weight loss and elevating the head of the bed.

Certain foods and lifestyle are considered to promote gastroesophageal reflux:
  • Coffee, alcohol, calcium supplements, and excessive amounts of Vitamin C supplements are stimulants of gastric acid secretion. Taking these before bedtime especially can promote evening reflux. Calcium containing antacids are in this group.
  • Foods high in fats and smoking reduce lower esophageal sphincter competence, so avoiding these tends to help, as well. Fat also delays emptying of the stomach.
  • Having more but smaller meals also reduces the risk of GERD, as it means there is less food in the stomach at any one time.

So; Avoid:
  • Eating for 2 hours before bedtime
  • Soft drinks that contain caffeine
  • Chocolate and peppermint
  • Spicy foods
  • Acidic foods like oranges and tomatoes(okay when fresh.)
  • Cruciferous vegetables: onions, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussel sprouts milk and milk-based products contain calcium and fat, so should be avoided before bedtime.
  • Food for 2 hours before bedtime and not lying down after a meal are frequently recommended lifestyle modifications.

Positional therapy

  • Sleeping position
  • Elevation to the head of the bed is the next-easiest to implement. If one implements pharmacologic therapy in combination with food avoidance before bedtime and elevation of the head of the bed over 95% of patients will have complete relief. Additional conservative measures can be considered if there is incomplete relief. Another approach is to advise all conservative measures to maximize response.
    Elevating the head of the bed can be accomplished by using blocks as noted above or with other items: plastic or wooden bed risers which support bed posts or legs, a bed wedge pillow, or an inflatable mattress lifter that fits in between mattress and box spring.

The height of the elevation is critical and must be at a minimum of 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) in order to be at least minimally effective in hindering the backflow of gastric fluids. It should be noted that some innerspring mattresses do not work well when inclined and tend to cause back pain thus foam based mattresses are to be preferred. Moreover, some use higher degrees of incline than provided by the commonly suggested 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) and claim greater success.

Drug treatment
  • Ranitak
  • A number of drugs are registered for the treatment of GERD, and they are among the most-often-prescribed forms of medication in most Western countries. They can be used in combination with other drugs, although some antacids can impede the function of other medications:
    Antacids before meals or symptomatically after symptoms begin can reduce gastric acidity (increase the pH). Alginic acid may coat the mucosa as well as increase the pH and decrease reflux.
    Gastric H2 receptor blockers such as ranitidine e.g. Ranitak or famotidine e.g. Famotak can reduce gastric secretion of acid. These drugs are technically antihistamines. They relieve complaints in about 50% of all GERD patients.
  • Omepak
  • Proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole e.g. Omepak are the most effective in reducing gastric acid secretion, as they stop the secretion of acid at the source of acid production, i.e. the proton pump. To maximize effectiveness of this medication the drug should be taken a half hour before meals.
  • Famotak
  • Prokinetics strengthen the LES and speed up gastric emptying. Cisapride, a member of this class, was withdrawn from the market for causing Long QT syndrome.

Surgical treatment
The standard surgical treatment, sometimes preferred over longtime use of medication, is the Nissen fundoplication. The upper part of the stomach is wrapped around the LES to strengthen the sphincter and prevent acid reflux and to repair a hiatal hernia. The procedure is often done laparoscopically.
An obsolete treatment is vagotomy ("highly selective vagotomy"), the surgical removal of vagus nerve branches that innervate the stomach lining. This treatment has been largely replaced by medication.

Other treatments:
In 2000, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved two endoscopic devices to treat chronic heartburn. One system, Endocinch, puts stitches in the LES to create little pleats that help strengthen the muscle. Another, the Stretta Procedure, uses electrodes to apply radio frequency energy to the LES. The long term outcomes of both procedures compared to a Nissen fundoplication are still being determined.
Subsequently the NDO Surgical Plicator was FDA cleared for the endoscopic treatment of GERD. The Plicator creates a plication, or fold, of tissue near the gastroesophageal junction, and fixates the plication with a suture-based implant. The Plicator is currently marketed by NDO Surgical, Inc. Another treatment which involved injection of a solution that is injected during endoscopy into the lower esophageal wall was available for approximately one year ending in late 2005. It was marketed under the name Enteryx. It was removed from the market due to several reports of complications from misplaced injections.

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