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By Jeannine Bollach

Special to CSMS Magazine

Indigestion affects millions of Americans each year. This catch-all term encompasses a wide array of complaints from “acid stomach” belching, nausea, bloating and distention…to much more serious problems, such as peptic esophagitis, gallstones and stomach cancer.

The landing source of gastrointestinal distress is heartburn, technically known as gastroesophegeal reflux disease (GERD). At one time or another, nearly all of us have experienced this burning sensation behind the breastbone. Often it’s accompanied by a rush of highly acidic fluid into the back of the throat as well. Reflux occurs when the movement of food and digestive juices in the back up into the esophagus.

Reflux may also arise from defects in the esophageal sphincter the muscular “gateway” between the esophagus and the stomach.

This problem may be caused by a hiatal hernia a weakness in the diaphragm—the muscular wall that separates the abdominal cavity from the lungs.  Other possible reflux triggers…

  • Caffeine and cigarettes. Both cause excessive secretion of stomach acid.
  • Fatty foods. Fats are hard to digest, so fatty foods stays in the stomach longer than carbohydrates or proteins.
  • Alcohol.  While it doesn’t induce reflux directly, it can cause erosion, swelling and inflammation of the stomach lining.
  • Ulcers. Scars tissue from previous duodenal or peptic ulcers sometimes blocks the passage of food through the stomach.
  • Diabetes and viral infections. They interfere with stomach motility by several mechanisms, including direct injury to nerves leading to the stomach or encouragement of overgrowth of intestinal bacteria.

Untreated reflux can chronic inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis), a serious disorder marked by hoarseness, bleeding pain, scarring, difficult swallowing, nausea and frequent awakening at night.

Note: Jeannine Bollach lives and work in Suburban Atlanta. She is an internist. She wrote this piece, specially for CSMS Magazine.

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