Many adults are painfully familiar with the uncomfortable and persistent burning sensation that often occurs after a delicious, heavy, and spicy meal, leading to more sleepless nights than we care to admit. When acid reflux emerges only occasionally, it is usually not a cause for concern. However, if the frequency or intensity begins to increase, it is likely a sign of gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD.
GERD, which is often referred to as dyspepsia, is a common chronic digestive disease, stemming from the problems that stomach acid or stomach content cause to the esophagus. When this acidic substance and poorly digested food flows backward from the stomach on a regular basis, this recurring backwash leads to a painful irritation of the esophageal lining that just doesn't seem to go away on its own. It can also return with such frequency that the affected individual is prevented from enjoying mealtimes, rest, or even hobbies and physical activities.
Nearly 25% of Americans are affected by gastroesophageal reflux disease to varying degrees of severity and rate of occurrence. Since it is such a widespread disorder, it is essential to be aware of the symptoms that most commonly signal the presence of dyspepsia, to help to determine whether it is merely acid reflux or perhaps more.
What Are the Most Common GERD Symptoms?
While many people use the terms acid reflux and GERD interchangeably, it is important to understand that these two are not the same, even though the symptoms may be somewhat similar, especially early on. The similar symptoms of both conditions are the following:
- heartburn: mild to severe painful burning sensation in the chest
- dry cough
- sore throat
- hoarse voice
- bitter or sour taste in the mouth
- pressure behind the breastbone
- symptoms may worsen when lying down
When these symptoms become more severe and return more frequently than twice a week, it is likely that chronic dyspepsia is the culprit, which usually presents itself by more noticeable symptoms. These additional symptoms include:
- bad breath
- nasal congestion
- the sensation of the regurgitation of stomach content
- asthma-like symptoms
- trouble swallowing
Over time, if not assessed properly by a primary care physician, these symptoms may lead to permanent damage of the esophagus and the upper respiratory tract. Some of these major health complications include:
- bleeding ulcers
- nasal polyps
- dental damage due to the stomach acids eroding the enamel of the teeth
- esophagal cancer
GERD symptoms can easily mimic other, potentially dangerous diseases. Therefore, it is imperative to receive a thorough medical examination to rule out all conditions which may first resemble GERD, specifically the following:
- angina or chest pain
- gallbladder disease
- stomach ulcers
- esophagitis, the inflammation of the esophagus
- anxiety attacks
When persistent heartburn appears with accompanying worrisome symptoms, it is time to seek the attention of your primary care physician to develop a customized treatment plan for dyspepsia.
How Can An Integrative Health Physician Help with GERD Symptoms?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease can be diagnosed relatively quickly, based on your symptoms, by your primary care physician. If you choose a primary care physician who specializes in integrative health, the treatment will consist of traditional and complementary medical therapies, and will be personalized based on your symptoms and unique physiological needs.
The goals of allopathic and alternative treatments of dyspepsia are the same: healing the digestive tract, especially the esophagus, along with preventing further damage occurring to the lining. Usually, both of these outcomes can be achieved by implementing long-term or, ideally, permanent lifestyle changes. An integrative health physician will focus on these lifestyle areas:
Dietary changes are the most important and essentially unavoidable step to take during the treatment of chronic acid reflux disease. Alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, spicy or acidic foods and beverages usually trigger several of the symptoms. This means they should be avoided altogether, whenever possible.
Replacing these foods and beverages with nutritionally dense options, plant-based meals, fresh and raw vegetables, and fruits that are full of vitamins, antioxidants, and fiber will not only offer fast relief but help with weight control, too. Since dyspepsia usually rapidly improves after shedding a few extra pounds, designing a healthy diet with the help of your integrative health physician should act as a backbone of your treatment plan.
Much like nutrition, exercise also aids in the goal of reaching an optimal weight and better control of your dyspepsia symptoms. Always follow your integrative health physician's guidance because certain types of vigorous physical activities are known to aggravate your symptoms. Also, avoid exercising right after a mealtime, when the contents of your stomach haven't been digested yet.
Certain herbal supplements, such as licorice and marshmallow, are known to soothe the irritation of the esophagus and to help heal its damaged lining. Ask your integrative primary care physician about the proper dosage for your unique needs to avoid side effects.
Anxiety seems to trigger dyspepsia symptoms for many. Successfully controlling your stress levels with the help of meditation, breathing techniques, enjoyable hobbies, and even an extra nap, will help ease your bothersome physical problems.
Do You Need a Primary Care Physician in San Francisco?
With the guidance of a primary care physician who specializes in integrative health, you can develop healthier habits that not only improve your physical state but support your emotional well-being, as well.
Dr. Payal Bhandari, M.D., a primary care physician in San Francisco, has extensive experience with integrative health and treating patients who have GERD. Please contact her, should you experience any bothersome physical symptoms that could indicate that you have chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease. With the help of an early diagnosis, you can experience rapid improvement and even the complete restoration of your health.