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What Is GERD or Acid Reflux?

Learn about GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and about acid reflux from gastroenterologist Lisa Ganjhu, M.D. in this Howcast digestion video.


So what is GERD? GERD is an acronym for gastro esophogeal reflux disease,
or acid reflux disease. They're very similar and they are
interchangeable terms. And it's exactly what it says. It's when the
gastric contents or the stomach contents reflux up into the esophagus.

Now, the stomach is normally very acidic. And it needs to be acidic to help
digest the food and help to clean the food and sanitize the food in
order to process it before it goes down to the small bowel. Now, the
esophagus is purely a transit to, basically, it gets the food from our
mouth to our stomach. So there's no real acid, chemical, or anything down
there except for a little bit of amylase which is produced in our
mouths. So it just basically helps the food travel down into the stomach.

Now, if you have the gastric contents reflux up into the esophagus, that acid comes up into the esophagus and that can feel like a burning sensation. It can
feel like a cramping sensation or pain and that's, basically, the
esophagus clamping down, so that the acid doesn't wash up into the
esophagus. The symptoms come from the esophagus spasming against the
acid, so that the acid doesn't continue to wash up into the esophagus.

So this can happen for a couple of reasons. If there's any defect at the
bottom of the esophagus or the top of the stomach, such as a hiatal
hernia, they don't have that nice tight seal the closes off the stomach
from the esophagus. There is a muscle that's at the base of the esophagus
called the lower esophageal sphincter. Now that sphincter is like a dam that
helps to keep the bottom of the esophagus closed and the top of the
stomach closed. There's also our diaphragm, which is a muscle that
separates our chest from our abdomen. And there's a small hole in that
diaphragm that the esophagus goes through to empty out into the stomach.
Now if there's any defect there, this part of the stomach can pop up into
the chest called a hiatal hernia. And then what that causes, again, that gets
rid of that nice tight seal, so you can get free acid washing up from
the stomach into the esophagus.


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