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What is GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) and what are the symptoms?

Heartburn, or reflux, occurs when small amounts of stomach acid rise up into the esophagus, or the "swallowing" tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.

The esophagus, unlike the stomach, does not have a protective lining, so when it is exposed to the acid, it can become inflamed and painful. In addition, tissue damage, or scarring on the esophagus can narrow the esophagus and make swallowing difficult. Acid reflux can lead to pre-cancerous conditions such as Barrett's Esophagus, cause permanent scarring of the esophagus, or create serious throat and lung conditions, making proper treatment of reflux important to your health.

The main symptoms of GERD are persistent heartburn and acid regurgitation. When stomach acid rises and touches the lining of the esophagus, it causes a burning sensation in the chest or throat called heartburn. This fluid may even be tasted in the back of the mouth, this is acid indigestion. Occasional heartburn is common but does not necessarily indicate GERD. Heartburn that occurs more than twice a week may be considered GERD, which can eventually lead to more serious health problems.

Can children get GERD?

GERD is common and often overlooked in infants and children. It can cause repeated vomiting, coughing, and other respiratory problems. Children's immature digestive systems are usually to blame, and most infants grow out of GERD by the time they are 1 year old.

What is IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that interferes with the normal functions of the large intestine (colon). It is characterized by a group of symptoms—crampy abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea. IBS is not a disease. It's a functional disorder, which means that the bowel doesn't work as it should.

Do spicy food and stress cause stomach ulcers?

No, almost all stomach ulcers are caused either by infection with a bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) or by use of pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen, the so-called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Most H. pylori-related ulcers can be cured with antibiotics. NSAID-induced ulcers can be cured with time, stomach-protective medications, antacids, and avoidance of NSAIDs. Spicy food and stress may aggravate ulcer symptoms in some people, but they do not cause ulcers.

Does smoking a cigarette help relieve heartburn?

No, cigarette smoking actually contributes to heartburn. Heartburn occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES)—a muscle between the esophagus and stomach—relaxes, allowing the acidic contents of the stomach to splash back into the esophagus. Cigarette smoking causes the LES to relax.

Does bowel regularity mean a bowel movement every day?

No, the frequency of bowel movements among normal, healthy people varies from three a day to three a week, and some perfectly healthy people fall outside both ends of this range.

Is it ok to use of enemas to treat constipation?

Habitual use of enemas is not harmless. Over time, enemas can impair the natural muscle action of the intestines, leaving them unable to function normally. An ongoing need for enemas is not normal; you should see a doctor if you find yourself relying on them or any other medication to have a bowel movement.

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