Disclaimer: The information in this article is intended to provide educational guidance as there may be other treatment options available; it does not replace the need for professional medical advice and should not be relied upon as specific advice for individual cases.
Acid Reflux, or GERD: What's the Difference?
Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are two terms commonly used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Both conditions share some common symptoms, such as heartburn, regurgitation, and chest pain, but there are important differences between them.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the differences between acid reflux and GERD, their causes, symptoms, and treatments.
Acid reflux is a common phenomenon that occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach). It happens to everyone at some point in their lives, and it’s not usually a cause for concern. However, if acid reflux occurs frequently and its symptoms persist, it may be a sign of GERD. Unlike acid reflux, which is mostly a mechanical phenomenon, GERD is a chronic disease that requires medical attention.
One important cause of acid reflux is a weakened lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This circular muscle acts like a valve that closes the opening between the esophagus and the stomach, preventing stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus. When the LES is weak, stomach acid can leak into the esophagus, causing acid reflux. Some factors that can weaken the LES include obesity, pregnancy, smoking, and certain foods and medications.
Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD, on the other hand, is a more serious condition that occurs when acid reflux becomes chronic and damages the lining of the esophagus. The symptoms of GERD are similar to acid reflux, but they are more severe and frequent. Patients with GERD may experience:
heartburn and regurgitation
If left untreated, GERD can lead to complications such as esophageal ulcers, strictures, and even cancer.
The diagnosis of GERD is usually based on the patient’s symptoms and medical history, along with some tests such as endoscopy, pH monitoring, and manometry. The treatment of GERD depends on its severity and the patient’s response to medical therapy. Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss, dietary modification, and smoking cessation, can help reduce the symptoms of GERD. Medications such as potassium-competitive acid blockers (P-CABs), proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2 blockers can also be prescribed to decrease the production of stomach acid.
Surgery is another option for patients with severe and refractory GERD. The most common surgical procedure for GERD is called fundoplication, which involves wrapping the upper part of the stomach around the LES to strengthen it and prevent acid reflux. This procedure is usually done laparoscopically, which means minimally invasive surgery with small incisions.
Acid reflux and GERD are two related but distinct conditions that can cause discomfort and pain to many people. While acid reflux is a common occurrence that can be managed with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications, GERD is a chronic disease that requires medical attention and treatment. If you experience frequent heartburn or acid reflux symptoms, it’s important to discuss them with your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and develop a treatment plan that works best for you.