National GERD Awareness Week began in November, 1999, when it was added to the U.S. National Health Observances calendar. Throughout the year but especially during this time, the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) encourages people who experience the symptoms of GERD (for example, heartburn, fluid flowing back up into the mouth, sensations of food sticking to the esophagus, and more) to seek treatment. We hope that if you’re a sufferer, a mere change in diet will do the trick. But for many, it’s not that easy.
GERD stands for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, and it affects approximately twenty percent of the population, to varying degrees per individual. So if you know someone, including yourself, who should avail themselves of some extra information, sit back and absorb what we’ve found out.
History of GERD Awareness Week
For over a century, doctors have known of the relationship between the backflow of food from the stomach into the esophagus and the pain associated with it that we call heartburn. It’s a rare individual who has never had that sick-feeling irritation after a meal and tried to figure out exactly what they ate so they could avoid that food in the future. Then again, there are those who love certain foods so much that they’re willing to put up with the heartburn afterwards, perhaps leaning on an over-the-counter medication to soothe the situation as it may.
But how did we get from there to the condition called GERD, and how did the week of recognition originate?
There is no known single cause of the disease. But medical professionals know that the reflux aspect of it happens when the muscle barrier between the esophagus and the stomach malfunctions or is otherwise overwhelmed. And doctors now distinguish between simple heartburn, which can afflict anyone occasionally, and the suite of symptoms associated with GERD, among which heartburn is just one.
So let’s get these in order while including a third related term, “acid reflux”: heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux, which covers other symptoms such as regurgitation into the throat, etc.; acid reflux is a symptom of GERD, which also covers other symptoms such as wheezing in bed, etc.
We have it on good authority that it was the evolving nature of these digestive phenomena and their interrelation with each other, combined with the increasing numbers of suffering patients, that led the IFFGD to seek official recognition for GERD as a formidable foe.
GERD Awareness Week timeline
The event is listed in the U.S. National Health Observances calendar, with the mission "to inform, assist, and support people affected by gastrointestinal (GI) disorders."
Syracuse native Dr. Asher Winkelstein, a gastroenterologist, first described the condition, although its various symptoms had appeared in medical records dating back to 1925.
John Macintyre, a Scottish doctor who specialized in investigation of the larynx, developed the self-illuminated endoscope (versions of which are now used in GERD treatment) at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.
The first uses of the word “heartburn” appear in print was in an edition of a Shakespeare comedy: “How tartly that gentleman looks; I never can see him but I am heartburn'd an hour after!”
GERD Awareness Week FAQs
Hmm, GERD Awareness Week and Thanksgiving, together. What should I do?
Doctors recommend serving smaller appetizers, eating an earlier meal to give your body ample time for digestion, and cut out or cut back on any alcohol or cigarette smoking. It’s even a good idea to skip fruit juice during your dinner. The little things add up, and trust us, you’ll feel good about making these small sacrifices.
Can this cause permanent damage?
Depending on certain factors like the strength or amount of acid present in the back-flowing liquid, the frequency of reflux incidents and the duration of them, your esophagus may indeed be seriously damaged. If you’re in doubt about whether to seek medical treatment, err on the side of caution and call your doctor or nurse practitioner.
How do I know if the symptoms I’m experiencing all add up to GERD?
Funnily enough, one of the more reliable indicators is to go on a two-week trial of a proton pump inhibitor, which is a prescription medicine that blocks gastric acid secretion. If uncomfortable and painful GI symptoms as a whole are alleviated, it’s mainly presumed that GERD is or was the cause. You and your provider should then discuss which ongoing therapies would be appropriate.
HOW TO OBSERVE NATIONAL G.E.R.D. AWARENESS WEEK (NT):
Plan GERD-friendly menus with your family
Generally, the foods to avoid are the ones that are high in acid or caffeine, like citrus fruits, cranberries, coffee, chocolate, peppermint, and spicy foods. But that still leaves plenty of delicious options! Try simplifying a little. French cuisine, for example, is based on the concept of starting with the highest-quality ingredients, and using cooking techniques that enhance the flavor of those ingredients. Roasting a whole chicken that's been stuffed with fresh herbs is a classic of French cooking, and would be a perfect centerpiece for a GERD-friendly feast.
Cook something tasty for a friend with GERD
Maybe you have a friend dealing with GERD who has a birthday coming up? You could dream up a special celebratory dessert to show your support. This time of the year, almost anything with apples would be a great choice. (You may want to check first just to be sure your friend doesn't have other food issues, like dairy or gluten intolerance. It's fun to surprise people, but maybe not this time!)
Make a commitment to healthier eating
Even though it's a little early for resolutions, there's no time like the present for committing to healthy eating habits — a little at a time. Drink just a little less coffee, for example, then perhaps try moderating the amount of heat-producing spices when you cook. And simply reducing the overall quantity of food you take in at each meal can make a difference, as will eating more slowly, which in itself has been proven to aid digestion. Hint: If you're having trouble slowing down, try focusing only on your food (i.e. no multi-tasking while you eat).
5 AMAZING FACTS ABOUT O.T.C. ANTACIDS
They are versatile
Though many of us make an automatic connection between heartburn and the treatment of it with antacids, antacids are also used to help with general upset stomachs, indigestion, and the like.
They can contain seemingly contradictory ingredients
The “hydroxides” in antacids, namely aluminum hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide, both ease the pain of digestive discomfort, but have opposing side effects: constipation and diarrhea, respectively.
“A little about brittle”
It’s unfortunate, but it’s a common occurrence for elderly men and women to take OTC antacids to excess, in response to heartburn and other GI discomfort.
Out of gas
Many antacids contain the substance dimethicone, which works to reduce gas in the GI tract, or as one popular online medical reference puts it, “gas bubbles in the gut.”
“The royal treatment”
In the early 1800s, Welsh physician James Murray treated the Marquis of Anglesey so effectively with Milk of Magnesia (one of the earliest antacids) that Murray was kept on as resident physician under two subsequent lords and eventually knighted.
Why GERD Awareness Week is Important
GERD awareness could save your life
If you've never heard of GERD (which is related to acid reflux disease), you may be suffering from it without realizing it. Without treatment, over time, it's possible for GERD to lead to precancerous conditions. And even if you're perfectly healthy yourself, knowing more about GERD may help you recognize symptoms in a friend or family member, and encourage them to seek medical attention.
It reminds us all to be conscious of how we eat (and drink)
Even if you've never had any symptoms of GERD, it's possible to trigger an episode by over-indulging in food and drinks that are highly acidic. This week is a great time to educate yourself and your family about the role your diet plays in this disease; it's not about depriving yourself, but more about learning how to enjoy treats in moderation, to help prevent GERD and related conditions.
It can help to enhance your quality of life
By learning about the foods and beverages that can help support a healthier gastrointestinal system, it may be possible to not just control your GERD symptoms, but to heal your body over time. (This may not apply in everyone's situation; be sure to talk with your own doctor about all possible treatment options that would be appropriate for you.) Making dietary changes does take commitment, but it's for a good cause: helping you enjoy your life to the fullest.