Gastroesophageal Reflux

What is gastroesophageal reflux?

Gastroesophageal reflux is the backflow of gastric juices from the stomach into the esophagus, the tube through which liquids and food travel down from the mouth to the stomach. When symptoms occur several times a day and are associated with other disorders, we can talk about gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

What are the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux?

Gastric contents include acids that irritate the esophageal mucosa and cause the typical symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux: burning in the stomach and chest, heartburn, hypersalivation and regurgitation. The acidity of gastric juices can also irritate the respiratory tract and throat, causing lowered voice, laryngitis, hoarseness, cough and asthma.

What are the causes of gastroesophageal reflux?

The esophagus, by means of rhythmic movements and aided by gravity, moves food towards the stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter regulates the passage of food, opening to allow the food bolus to pass and closing to prevent it from coming back up. Reflux occurs when there is a malfunction of this valve, which opens when it should not and allows the gastric contents to move upwards. Another cause is slow gastric emptying. The longer food remains in the stomach, the greater the likelihood of gastroesophageal reflux symptoms. Even if the salivary pH is reduced, which is basic, the esophagus is less protected from gastric reflux attacks.

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Can it be prevented?

Nutrition plays an important role in the treatment and prevention of gastroesophageal reflux. Foods to avoid include sausages, alcohol, cheese, tea, coffee, tomatoes, citrus fruits, soft drinks and fried foods. Milk, the “grandmother’s remedy” par excellence against reflux, actually favors it, since it is a food rich in fats that could slow down the emptying of the stomach. It is advisable to eat slowly, chewing food well to promote digestion and to eat 4 to 5 small meals a day. In addition, it is advisable to avoid going to sleep immediately after eating. Finally, you should avoid taking certain medications, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and some anxiolytics that can increase gastric acidity, and wearing clothes that are too tight.

What is the treatment?

Treatment is based on lifestyle correction and drug therapy. The latter uses medications that can decrease the time of stomach emptying, protect the esophageal mucosa and reduce the acidity of gastric juices. Only in special cases, which have not responded to drug treatment, is surgical intervention aimed at restoring the functionality of the sphincter resorted to.