Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is one of the most common chronic digestive disorders seen in clinical practice today. GERD occurs when stomach contents leak back into the esophagus. Normally, this backup of acid occurs briefly in most people. It becomes a disease when it occurs frequently, causing damage to the actual tissue lining of the esophagus. The tissue damage leads to symptoms, the most common of which is heartburn.
There are many causes of GERD. Weakness of the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) valve is one cause. The LES is found where the lower esophagus (swallowing tube) meets the stomach. The LES is meant to close when food reaches the stomach after a meal. With muscle weakness, the LES does not close properly, either because it is too loose or too wide – leading to acid reflux. In turn, this damages the lining of the esophagus and its nerve endings, which sense various degrees of pressure and acidity.
Reflux occurs commonly from overeating. Reflux can also occur as a response to certain types of foods, stress, or by the effects of excess weight. Reflux can also be caused by structural abnormalities such as a hiatal hernia. In this case, the stomach is pushed up through a weakening in the diaphragm. Many persons with hiatal hernias will experience some degree of gastroesophageal reflux.
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