Reflux may be unwelcome post-meal visitor

This is a time we enjoy our family and friends, eat more, stress more, sleep less and change our routines. While you are around family and friends more than usual you might notice some irregularities.

Not only is this Thanksgiving, but also gastroesophageal reflux disease awareness week. Yes, there is a correlation. Typically our Thanksgiving Day meal is larger than usual, higher in fat, includes foods and beverage we might not typically consume, and then we recline before consuming the dessert or leftovers.

We tend to eat and drink before the meal with appetizers and alcohol and then eat increased volume of foods as well as more high-fat options. The more side dishes there are, the more we tend to eat. All and all, this can set off discomfort. But when does discomfort become gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD?

By all means enjoy your day, but if you have some of these issues, please do not discount them to “merely eating too much.” That twice-a-year bloating isn’t the issue, but if you realize it is happening more frequently – i.e., on a weekly basis – then follow-up is recommended. GERD and laryngopharyngeal reflux might be a concern. Don’t worry if you can’t say the words – reflux says it all.

What is GERD and how does it relate to the holiday season? There are two sphincters (muscle ring to close access) in the esophagus – one at the top behind the throat and one at the bottom at the entrance of the stomach.

Gastroesophageal reflux is a condition when the lower sphincter doesn’t close and stomach contents (food or liquid) leak back up from the stomach into the esophagus. The acid from the stomach irritates the lining and causes a burning sensation in the mid-chest (heartburn, acid reflux), as well as possibly bloating, pain or unexpected asthma-like symptoms. This tends to happen more often with alcohol consumption, large meals, high-fat meals and meals that contain irritant foods.

But a related reflux is often not known about: laryngopharyngeal reflux, or LPR. Typically there is no heartburn but the cause is similar. When the top sphincter at the back of the throat also doesn’t work, it becomes laryngopharyngeal reflux. Food and liquids leak back up from the stomach to the back of the throat and voice box. Because the acid does not stay in the mid-chest area, heartburn is not typical. Symptoms instead include a bitter taste at the back of the throat; hoarseness; continual clearing of the throat; chronic cough; a feeling that something is stuck; or the inability to swallow. Both GERD and LPR can be found in children, though it is more prevalent in adults over 50.

According to the National Institutes of Health, GERD and LPR are interrelated and common. When the symptoms occur more than once a week or if they interfere with your quality of life, follow-up is recommended. Treatment begins with awareness of the symptoms. They are not a necessary part of aging or pregnancy. The second step is to discuss your symptoms with your medical care provider to take action.

It is very treatable. It might involve medication or esophageal scope as well as avoidance of specific foods that aggravate the sphincters, weight loss or smoking cessation (including smokeless tobacco). or 247-4355. Wendy Rice is family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office.

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