Everyone feels uncomfortable after a big or rich meal every once in a while. However, when you frequently feel heartburn and other uncomfortable symptoms, you may have chronic acid reflux, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Chronic acid reflux is common, affecting 20% of people in the United States. This digestive disease can lead to more than just a burning sensation and chest pain — long-term untreated acid reflux can also cause tooth decay and even increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Fortunately, there are many ways to treat acid reflux. Board-certified bariatric surgeon Dr. Michael Sutker can help you enjoy eating again and restore your quality of life with a personalized treatment plan, which may include surgery. Here’s what you should know.
What causes acid reflux disease?
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid repeatedly flows back into the esophagus, the tube between your mouth and stomach. The sensitive tissues that line the esophagus don’t react well when they come in contact with this acid.
The acid comes into the esophagus when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) doesn’t work properly. The LES is a ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus which acts as a valve to prevent stomach contents from flowing back up.
When your LES weakens or becomes abnormally relaxed, stomach acid can escape into your esophagus, leading to a range of uncomfortable symptoms such as heartburn, regurgitation, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing.
While anyone can develop acid reflux, including children, the condition is more common in people over the age of 40. Other risk factors include:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Anxiety or depression
- Certain beverages
Lifestyle changes and medications such as antacids and H2 receptor blockers can often manage acid reflux symptoms effectively. In some cases, however, acid reflux surgery is the best treatment option.
When to consider acid reflux surgery
Generally, when lifestyle changes and medications fail to deliver relief from ongoing acid reflux symptoms, it’s time to consider surgery. Lifestyle changes may include weight loss, dietary changes, avoiding trigger foods, and sleeping with your head elevated. Medication such as antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) can also help.
However, if these strategies don’t ease your symptoms substantially — or if your symptoms remain the same or worsen — it’s time to explore surgical treatment options.
You should also consider acid reflux surgery if symptoms severely impact your quality of life, or if you’re experiencing complications of long-term GERD, such as:
- Unintended weight loss
- Blood in your stool
- Strictures (narrowing of the esophagus)
- Precancerous changes in your esophagus lining
- Respiratory problems
If you’re dealing with chronic acid reflux, make an appointment at Michael Sutker, MD, in Dallas or McKinney, Texas, to see if you’re a good candidate for acid reflux surgery.