Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic condition of the digestive system. While GERD is slightly more common in women, it is significantly more serious for men.
When we eat, food travels from the mouth through a tube called the esophagus into the stomach. At the top of the stomach there is a valve which is supposed to keep the contents of the stomach from flowing backward up the esophagus. GERD occurs when food, liquids, and acid from the stomach get past this valve and backwash up into the esophagus. Symptoms of GERD include:
• Full feeling behind the breastbone which may feel as though food is stuck in the esophagus.
• Heartburn – burning pain in the chest under the breastbone, sometimes accompanied by a sour taste in the mouth. This pain may get worse if you bend over, lie down, or eat. It is often worse at night and may go away if you take antacids.
• Nausea after eating
• Difficulty swallowing
• Sore throat or hoarseness
Stomach acid in GERD can damage the lining of the esophagus which can cause inflammation and pain.
In general, women are slightly more likely to have GERD than men. Women have a shorter esophagus than men, and many women seem to feel more pain in connection with inflammation or distention of the esophagus than men. But men produce more stomach acid, especially when standing up, than women, which make GERD more serious for men. Women also have higher levels of a blood protein that helps protect and repair the lining of the esophagus which can make GERD less severe in women. Women who are pregnant have a higher risk for GERD due to high levels of the hormone progesterone which affects muscle contractions in the esophagus. (Legato)
GERD can also cause more serious conditions including Barrett’s esophagus. In this condition, cells in the esophagus are replaced with cells like those in the stomach and intestines. Barrett’s esophagus is considered to be a pre-cancerous condition, which means people who have the condition are more likely to develop cancer of the esophagus.
The most significant risk factor for Barrett’s esophagus is being a Caucasian male.