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I'm confused about heartburn, acid reflex and GERD

By November 18, 2008 - 9:58am
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I'm confused about the differences between normal heartburn, acid reflux and GERD. Are they the same thing? Are they caused by the same things?

How do I tell whether what I have is ok to just treat with Tums or Pepcid, etc, or whether I need to ask a doctor about it? It seems to come and go but I haven't figured out if it's because of certain foods, or stresses, or anything like that.

Thanks for your help!

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About six years ago I experienced horrible chest pain that was so severe and sudden that I was literally reduced to being in the fetal position for about an hour until it subsided. I really thought I was having a heart attack. I ended up meeting my doctor at the emergency room and he admitted me and ran all kinds of heart tests. My heart turned out to be in awesome shape, so I went on with my life until about a month later I had the same kind of horribly painful episode.

At that point, my doctor decided to run some tests on my esophagus and it turned out that I have GERD and a condition called Shatzki Ring. I had an endoscopy where my esophagus was widened a little and then I was put on Nexium. In the past six years, I've occasionally had minor symptoms, like difficulty swallowing, and only when I'm under a lot of stress or if I'm not getting enough sleep. I'm so glad that this was caught while I'm relatively young because I have a couple of relatives in my family who have suffered from esophageal cancer. I've learned that this runs very prevalently in my family.

November 21, 2008 - 4:18pm

If you would like to see some very interesting research articles and stories about what chiropractic can do besides helping back pain then go here:
this takes you to the International Chirpractic Association of Pediatrics(ICPA).
Sorry it focuses on children's health not adults, but when you make the connection it applies to everyone with a spine and nervous system!

November 20, 2008 - 2:03pm

Wow, thanks for all the great information. I'm particularly interested in the connection between chiropractic and the messages that the brain sends; I would never think of chiropractic if I wasn't beginning with a back-pain issue.

Susan, you poor thing! I can't imagine how hard it was for you to try to comfort your daughter during the x-ray at the hospital. My younger sisters had to have stitches when she was a baby and even though I was young as well, I still remember my mom talking about how they had to strap her down and how hard it was to endure.

That's also really interesting about GERD, and the pharmaceutical codes thing. Sometimes it seems like every time I turn around, I learn something else that has to do primarily with how large corporations are handling health care and the prescription drug industry.

November 20, 2008 - 9:58am

You shouldn't get to caught up in the words but rather find the CAUSE of the problem. As stated by alison, heartburn and relux are symtoms of GERD. BUT I thought it might help to mention that people have suffered from reflux for hundreds of years and the term GERD is fairly new in the past few years. WHY? Because there has to be a DIAGNOSIS TERM with a code attached so that a pharmaceutical company could produce a medicine that would be paid for by insurance. (They have also done the same thing with the newer terms IBS-Irritable Bowel Symdrome AND Chronic Dry Eye)
So anyway, taking antacids or prescription medications does not solve the problem but rather changes your stomach acidity to cover the symptoms. Unfortunately if you do this long enough, your digestive ability decreases which in turn makes it harder for the intestines to absorb nutrients.
The better solutions are finding the cause:
-changing diet from acidic and spicy foods
-not bending at the waist but rather the knees
-some say putting the head-end of bed on blocks so acid will flow south
-checking for hiatal hernias
Now if you make lifestyle changes and still have issues then maybe it is a problem with the FUNCTION of the body. Ways to improve function might be chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy, etc.
The only way the stomach knows how much acid to produce or how to keep the valve closed is by the brain telling it to do so.
So a spine issue can distort the message from the brain and cause dysfucntion of the organ. I would suggest a chiropractic check-up (and you don't necessarily have back pain with spine problems). good luck
p.s. chiropractic works well with infant too (since diets not much of a factor)

November 19, 2008 - 8:07pm

Alisonb posting hit the main differences. Just in case you want more info, here is what I have learned from my own experience with acid reflux that almost become chronic. The main difference of at least the two conditions: GERD and Acid Reflux is the frequency each is experienced. Understanding this difference is very important as one is more serious than the other. In regards to heartburn, it a symptom and it is present on both instances. Heartburn is sometimes referred to as acid indigestion manifested by a burning sensation and pain in the lower part of the mid-chest, behind the breast bone, and in the mid-abdomen.

Now, let’s go back to Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). The first one is the most common and it is known as acid reflux or acid regurgitation. When acid reflux occurs, food or fluid can be tasted in the back of the mouth. In a normal functioning digestion, food travels or slides down to the stomach via the esophagus (the long tube that leads to the stomach). At the stomach entrance the muscles relax and allow food to pass into the stomach and acids start to break food down into easy to digest parts. Once eating is finished the muscular rings at the end of the esophagus should relax to keep food and acids from backing up out of the stomach and refluxing into the esophageal tube. If this does not happen then we have an example of acid reflux. Sometimes, acid reflux is caused by hernias in the stomach which cause it to slide out of place, the protecting rings that keep food and acid in the stomach may not work properly as a result. Acid reflux then is food and acid splashed UP into the esophagus causing heartburn, chest pain and belching. Acid reflux can lead to angina-like chest pains and spasms, the symptoms can be so intense that they are mistaken for a heart attack. Occasional GER (acid reflux) is not uncommon. However, acid reflux that becomes persistent and occurs more than twice a week is considered GERD, and it can eventually lead to more serious health problems. People of all ages can have GERD and this is a more serious condition. Consult a medical professional if you suspect GERD or acid reflux that occurs too frequently. You should consider making dietary changes as well.

November 18, 2008 - 10:27pm

According to the American College of Gastroesophology the causes of GERD and hearburn/indigestion are the same: "acid is produced in the stomach every day. Normally, a small amount of acid passes into the esophagus through a valve between the esophagus and stomach called the lower esophageal sphincter. When the frequency or amount of acid in contact with your esophagus increases, symptoms and damage to your esophagus can occur."

Here is some information that may help you determine what you are experiencing, from the Mayo Clinic's Digestive System website:

Acid reflux is more of a symptom/cause rather than a condition/disease. It is one cause of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and heartburn/indigestion.

Heartburn is a burning sensation in esophagus, just below or behind the breastbone. Frequent heartburn can be a serious problem, and it deserves medical attention.

A disease in which stomach acid or bile flows back ("refluxes") into your esophagus.
Symptoms include:
* Heartburn — burning sensation in your chest, sometimes spreading to the throat, along with a sour taste in your mouth.
* Chest pain, especially at night while lying down
* Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
* Coughing, wheezing, asthma, hoarseness or sore throat
* Regurgitation of food or sour liquid

What symptoms are you experiencing, and how often?

If you are experiencing heartburn or any type of reflux that: occurs several times per week, wakes you up at night or returns after antacid has worn off, you are encouraged to talk with your doctor.

November 18, 2008 - 1:29pm
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