Over and over again I see men, typically over 55, complaining of symptoms that frighten them: difficulty swallowing, food sticking in their throat, feeling as if they are suffocating due to regurgitation. They often confess to ten or more years of increasingly severe symptoms, typically starting with heartburn and/or chest pain. These are symptoms of GERD and should be addressed.
So what is it with men? We have symptoms telling us something is wrong and we just dismiss them. We know what life is like without these symptoms, but simply accept discomfort. Why?
I think I understand – men are stubborn! As a GERD specialist I am always happy to get a phone call from a woman calling about her spouse, father or son. Women, most often, are the family care givers and can be very effective at getting their men to deal with their medical issues.
If a man in your life has any of the symptoms mentioned above, it is time for you to take action. The incidence rate of reflux disease is growing at 30% every decade and here are some important facts you should know:
- One in three adults has one or more GERD symptoms monthly, and one in five has symptoms multiple times each week.
- When ignored, reflux disease can progress into Barrett’s esophagus (pre-cancerous condition) or even esophageal cancer, which has the fastest incidence growth of any cancer in the US today.
- Prescriptions and over-the-counter medications only reduce or eliminate acid reflux symptoms; they cannot stop reflux and thus they cannot stop the progression of the disease.
- Most GERD patients are put on proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) which, when used long-term, have the potential for adverse effects that can result in serious health issues over time.
Heartburn and other GERD symptoms are not merely inconveniences; they are important messages from the body that demand attention. For some, if those messages are ignored, the frequency and severity of the symptoms will increase, limiting options to manage or slow its progression.
So where do you start if you are concerned about someone with GERD symptoms?
- Be sure you understand this disease, its symptoms and possible treatments. An excellent educational website is www.refluxmd.com.
- Use RefluxMD’s online awareness tools which are quick, easy to understand, effective, and convey key issues surrounding acid reflux disease (www.refluxmd.com/heartburn).
- Schedule an evaluation with a GERD specialist. Unfortunately, most family practice doctors have a limited understanding of the complexity of this disease and lack the clinical tools to properly diagnose reflux disease.
- Focus on things you can do at home to help, especially weight loss and diet. Research has proven that obesity and large meal portions are driving the growth rate of GERD in the US.
Awareness is the first step in reducing the growth rate of reflux disease in this country, and it can start at home (often with that stubborn man in your life!)
Dr. Johnson is a board-certified general surgeon with Premier Surgical Associates in Palm Springs and can be reached at (760) 424.8224.