Acid reflux is a condition that occurs when acid and other gastric contents from the stomach flow backward (refluxes) into the esophagus through the lower esophageal sphincter, which when healthy, serves as a valve. Sometimes, this sphincter can become weak or damaged, allowing acid, digestive enzymes and sometimes food particles to “escape” from the stomach and re-enter the esophagus, causing pain and burning sensations. Chronic acid reflux is also referred to as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and without proper care, it can cause erosion and sores in the esophagus, increasing the risk of developing esophageal cancer. In addition to stomach pain, heartburn and belching, reflux can also cause symptoms like persistent coughing, hoarseness, and sore throat, referred to as LPR (laryngopharyngeal reflux).
Typical symptoms of reflux including stomach pain, heartburn and regurgitation are usually the first clues. Upper endoscopy, described in further detail elsewhere, can help identify the injury seen in acid reflux. Other studies used to diagnose GERD and LPR include upper GI series or esophagogram in which liquid contrast is swallowed and visualized on X-Rays, as well as pH monitoring.
pH Monitoring is a state-of-the-art diagnostic system used to evaluate patients with symptoms of acid reflux to provide an accurate diagnosis that can help guide treatment. During monitoring, a tiny, flexible probe is placed at the back of the throat to measure pH. The probe is worn for a specific period of time, gathering data that can be very helpful in identifying and managing GERD and reflux. The probe can be inserted right in the office, and because it is so tiny, it doesn’t interfere with swallowing or talking. The unique design and positioning of the probe help eliminate “false positives” so patients can feel confident they’ll receive the most appropriate care for their needs, and the probe can detect and measure pH in liquid as well as exhaled breath (including GERD-related coughing) for greater accuracy.
Mild acid reflux may be treated by eliminating foods known to cause symptoms, and there are several medications that can be used to neutralize or control stomach acid production. More advanced cases of GERD caused by extensive damage or weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter may require surgery to repair the sphincter and prevent stomach juices from flowing back into the esophagus so symptoms are relieved and more serious risks such as Barrett’s metaplasia (pre-cancerous changes) and cancer can be prevented.