Ask a Nurse - Do I have GERD?

by Cathy Parkes November 14, 2022 Updated: December 21, 2022 2 min read

In this episode of Ask A Nurse, Cathy Parkes BSN, RN, CWCN, PHN answers your questions about gastroesophageal reflux disease (i.e., “GERD” or “acid reflux”), such as “What is GERD?” “What are the symptoms of GERD?” and, “How can I treat GERD?”

Cathy explains what causes GERD, risk factors that increase the risk for reflux, and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease.

She also describes medications that are used in the treatment of GERD, lifestyle modifications that can decrease symptoms of reflux, and surgical interventions for chronic GERD.

Full Transcript

Hi. This is Cathy with LevelUpRN. In this episode of Ask a Nurse, I will be answering your questions about gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, such as, "what is GERD?" "What are the symptoms of GERD?" and, "how can I treat GERD?"

Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a chronic condition where the contents of the stomach, including enzymes, back flow into the esophagus, causing pain and damage to the esophagus. GERD is typically associated with a weakened lower esophageal sphincter. So this sphincter is a ring of muscle at the end of your esophagus. And it's supposed to stop those stomach contents from back flowing into the esophagus.

Risk factors associated with GERD include obesity, smoking, alcohol use, older age, as well as pregnancy. Gastroesophageal reflux disease can cause burning chest pain that is worse when laying down and typically feels better when sitting up. It can also cause indigestion, throat irritation, as well as a bitter taste in the mouth. It's also associated with difficulty swallowing and possibly a chronic cough.

There are a number of medications that can be helpful in the treatment of GERD, as well as lifestyle modifications that can decrease the symptoms of GERD. In terms of medications, antacids can be used to help neutralize the acid in the stomach. However, it's going to be really important that you take antacids exactly as directed by your provider because too many antacids can definitely cause other problems.

We also have H2 blockers such as ranitidine and proton pump inhibitors such as pantoprazole, and these medications help to reduce acid secretion in the stomach. In addition, prokinetic agents such as metoclopramide can be used to help accelerate emptying of the stomach into the small intestine before those gastric contents have a chance to back flow into the esophagus.

Lifestyle modifications that can decrease symptoms include avoiding fatty, fried, or spicy foods, as well as avoiding caffeine. You also want to eat smaller meals and make sure you remain upright after meals. So you don't want to consume a meal and then go straight to bed, where you're going to be laying down.

In addition, losing weight, stopping smoking, and reducing alcohol intake can be helpful. If those things apply to you, and you want to elevate the head of your bed, if possible. You can do this using blocks, or you can get one of those fancy mattresses that let you raise up the head of the bed.

If all else fails, there is a surgical intervention called fundoplication, which despite the name is really not that fun. So definitely try lifestyle modifications and medication first.

Okay. That is it for this episode of Ask a Nurse. I hope this information has been helpful for you. If you have other topics or health-related questions that you'd like me to address in a future episode, then definitely leave those in the comments. Stay informed and stay well.


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