Regurgitation of contents from the stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) into the esophagus causes gastroesophageal reflux or heartburn. The disgestive juices secreted by the stomach and the intestinal tract irritate the lining of the esophagus. Severe, chronic gastroesophageal reflux can cause esophageal strictures. Difficult, painful swallowing can also occur.
Causes of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
The lower esophageal sphincter is a band of muscle within the esophagus at the junction with the stomach. People with gastroesophageal reflux disease may have weakness or poorly controlled opening of this muscle. Increased abdominal pressure, from obesity, pregnancy, and tight--fitting clothing, may encourage reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus. Certain foods and beverages, such as fatty, spicy, or acidic foods and alcoholic or caffeinated drinks, increase the incidence of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Medications such as aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs, and cortisone also may produce heartburn.
Signs and Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
The most common symptom is a burning pain in the chest. Occasionally the pain may radiate to the neck or arms. Difficult, painful swallowing can occur, especially in chronic situations. People may notice the regurgitation of food in particular positions. Lying down and bending forward are the most problematic. Cough, hoarseness, and wheezing can occur, if the regurgitated contents enter the lungs or irritate the vocal cords. Gastroesophageal reflux disease can lead to the development of snoring.
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Medical Content Last Updated on 07/12/2008
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