​Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux or ‘GERD’ is a disorder of the stomach and the oesophagus, whereby contents of the stomach (stomach acids and foods) are ‘refluxed’ or returned back up the oesophagus, causing irritation of the lining of the oesophagus and heartburn. If left untreated, this disorder can even damage the oesophagus or the respiratory tract.

In normal digestion, the oesophageal sphincter muscle allows food to pass down the oesophagus into the stomach, but it closes so that these stomach contents cannot flow back up the oesophagus. In people affected by GERD, the oesophageal sphincter muscle may be weaker or relax inappropriately, allowing the stomach contents to flow back up into the oesophagus, causing frequent heartburn and irritating the oesophageal lining, which can disrupt your normal daily activities.

People with asthma are at a higher risk of developing GERD. This is because flare-ups because of asthma can cause the oesophageal sphincter muscles, responsible for preventing food and stomach acids from flowing back up the oesophagus, to relax. Pregnant women, smokers, obese people and diabetics are at a higher risk for developing this condition.

GERD is a chronic digestive disease, which means that it affects you over a long term. Lifestyle changes and certain medications help you manage the symptoms of GERD.

Heartburn is the most common complaint that patients of GERD report. Other signs and symptoms associated with this disorder include:

  • Acid regurgitation (tasting your food again after eating it).

  • A feeling of food being stuck in the chest, or chest pain in severe cases.

  • Nausea after eating.

  • Pain when swallowing.

  • Bad breath.

  • Chronic sore throat which is persistent and frequent.

  • Hoarseness.

  • Difficulty breathing.

If you experience any of the above symptoms for a prolonged time period, you must get yourself evaluated to diagnose the presence of GERD. Serious symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux which must not be ignored include difficulty breathing, chest pain, frequent heartburn, or recurring episodes of the above-described symptoms. If you suspect that your symptoms are worsening, you must seek immediate medical advice from an ENT (Eye-Nose-Throat) specialist working for the <Eye and ENT Service Line> of The Aga Khan University Hospital.

Your time with your doctor may be limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here are some tips to help get you started.

Your doctor will ask you questions about your medical history to be able to make a diagnosis for GERD. A history of frequent heartburns and other related symptoms discussed above will cause suspicion that you could be suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease.

For further diagnosis, your doctor will also use special devices and instruments to monitor the amount of acid in your oesophagus over 24 hours. You may be asked to stop taking medicines for GERD prior to this test to be able to make an accurate diagnosis. 

Your doctor may also request an endoscopy to examine the inside of your oesophagus and stomach, or even an X-ray of your upper digestive tract. Further lab tests, such as the blood test, or the stool test may also be conducted to check for other systems which could indicate the presence of irritation in the oesophagus, stomach or intestines.

Since gastroesophageal reflux disease is a chronic disorder, treatment is focused on managing the symptoms of the disease rather than curing it completely.
Certain lifestyle changes can help manage GERD symptoms, such as:

  • Losing weight.

  • Avoiding medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen as these can irritate the oesophagus.

  • Taking all medicines with plenty of water to avoid heartburn.

  • Wearing comfortable clothes makes you less likely to get heartburn.

  • Avoiding exercising right after a meal, waiting at least two hours after eating to work out.

  • Not going to bed with a full stomach.

  • Having smaller meals.

  • Elevating the upper body at night.

  • Avoiding foods that trigger heartburn, such as onions, caffeinated drinks, citrus fruits and juices.

  • Quitting smoking as certain ingredients in cigarettes can weaken the oesophageal sphincter muscle.

Besides these, your doctor will also prescribe medications to help provide relief from your symptoms. Examples of treatment plans your doctor may advice include:

  • Antacids to neutralize stomach acids.

  • Medications to heal the oesophageal lining and stop acid production.

  • Medications to strengthen the lower oesophageal sphincter muscles.

In case you do not respond to medications and lifestyle changes, your doctor may recommend an anti-reflux surgery. This will help improve the symptoms, though you may still have to continue taking medications.

Our team of internationally accredited ENT specialists at The Aga Khan University Hospital is specially trained in diagnosing and treating ear, nose and throat disorders. You can discuss your treatment options in detail as well as any other queries or concerns you may have about this disorder.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.