Acid Reflux: What’s The Word on GERD?

Some things just make our stomach turn- whether it’s watching an episode of “Hoarders”, doing an INSANITY workout, or catching up with LiLo’s latest plastic surgery debacle, acid reflux can be a real disaster.

What causes Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)? There are several factors that play into women experiencing symptoms of acid reflux. Amongst Americans, more than twenty five percent of all adults suffer from GERD and greater than ten percent have symptoms every day.

The environment in the stomach is extremely acidic compared to the rest of the body. When this acidic content comes up from the stomach to the lower portion of the esophagus, you may begin to feel the burning and pain of acid reflux. At the junction between the esophagus and the stomach there is a small sphincter (this acts similar to a door) that stays closed to keep acid out of the esophagus. If this “door” malfunctions, or is hit by a significant amount of pressure from the stomach, a person experiences acid reflux. Occasionally, this sphincter may relax at the wrong time and also cause symptoms of GERD. 

Like your good friend Kim Kardashian in her blonde wig, GERD symptoms may be unrecognizable. Symptoms such as chest pain, nausea, persistent cough, or hoarse voice can all be associated with acid reflux. If you are experiencing chest pain, however, don’t tell yourself it’s heartburn, you should have a cardiac evaluation by a physician immediately.

In some cases, GERD is a sign of a more serious problem. If you are experiencing trouble swallowing, loss of appetite, weight loss, or pain in your stomach or throat something more complex may be going on. Gastric ulcers, esophageal and gastric cancers, and anatomical problems with your esophagus may present as severe GERD. Your doctor can help evaluate your situation with a careful history and exam. If any of these are suspected and you have tried medications or lifestyle changes (we will talk about this below), your physician may recommend you see a Gastroenterologist for further studies or evaluation. This is a specialist who deals specifically with medical problems related to the stomach, intestine and digestive system.

What are some ways to reduce GERD? Lifestyle changes are always the first and best place to start. It turns out not only is binge drinking bad for your heart, but excessive amounts of alcohol can worsen acid reflux symptoms. High intake of fat is also associated with increase in GERD symptoms. Additionally, if you smoke, your acid reflux can be much more severe- this alone is a great reason to quit smoking. Increased intake of citrus fruits, juice, chocolate, and spices are also known to exacerbate acid reflux. Also keep in mind that pregnancy can significantly increase acid reflux, so try to sit upright after meals and consider smaller meals and snacks throughout the day if you are pregnant.

Hopefully all this info hasn’t left a sour taste in your mouth! If you are experiencing symptoms of GERD speak to your physician. He or she may give you a trial of a medication to improve your symptoms and review your diet and lifestyle to help you make changes.

Urinary Tract Infections: TMI on UTIs

If you’ve ever felt more than a sprinkle during your tinkle you may have had a urinary tract infection (UTI). Feelings of burning (not the good kind from pumping iron at the gym), deep pain, and a constant urge to go are all symptoms of a possible urinary tract infection.  Before you hit the grocery store and drive up the price of cranberry juice stock, learn about what causes infections, what to look for and warning signs to keep you from ending up extremely sick.

According to recent data, about half of all women will have a UTI in their lifetime. Women are more prone to getting urinary infections because anatomically they have a shorter urethra (the part of the urinary tract that connects the bladder to the outside) than men, which makes it easier for bacteria to gain access to the structures of the lower urinary tract.  Other risk factors that predispose women to urinary tract infections include more frequent intercourse, a new sexual partner, taking antibiotics, pregnancy, diabetes, and using contraception devices like diaphragms.

What symptoms should you look out for? Common urinary tract infection symptoms include needing to use the bathroom frequently with only small amounts of urine coming out (frequency), feeling a need to use the bathroom suddenly, despite recently using the restroom (urgency), abdominal pain or pain right above your pelvis or bladder, lower back pain, chills, and nausea.

It’s important to distinguish an uncomplicated urinary infection from a complicated one.  Uncomplicated UTIs are seen in healthy women who are not pregnant, and do not have other medical problems such as Diabetes, or HIV. Complicated UTIs are infections that may be ascending the urinary tract or involve more resistant bugs. This can be extremely dangerous as infections can continue to travel up the urinary tract and affect the bladder and kidneys causing severe fever, widespread infection in the blood, severe dehydration, and even shock. It’s important to also know that any urinary symptoms in pregnancy should ALWAYS be brought up with your doctor. Several studies have shown that untreated urinary tract infections in pregnancy can increase your risk of preterm labor.  UTI’s can also become complicated if simple or uncomplicated infections remain untreated for a prolonged period of time.  A woman can also develop a complicated UTI if she has had an infection within the last three months with the same bacteria.

A few ways to avoid urinary tract infections are to drink plenty of water throughout the day. This is not only good for your urinary tract but your whole body. Getting plenty of fluids can keep bacteria from proliferating throughout the urinary tract. It’s also important to void after intercourse. Although sleep often beats post coital voiding, failure to urinate after intercourse is one of the most common causes of UTIs in women.  Also avoid holding your urine in for lengthy periods of time by emptying your bladder as soon as you feel the need to go.

UTIs can be easily diagnosed and treated, so if you begin to feel symptoms get in touch with your physician ASAP. Early detection and treatment can avoid serious complications!

Alcohol Abuse: When Cinco De Mayo becomes Drinko De Mayo

We’ve all been there. You wake up dehydrated- the previous night’s events are all a blur. Reach towards your nightstand…cell phone? Check. License? Check. Dignity… questionable.

If this happens more often than not, you may need help and that is no laughing matter. A recent national survey noted that more than fifty percent of Americans aged 12 or older reported drinking alcohol. Of these fifty percent more than twenty percent admitted to binge drinking. Binge drinking is typically defined as greater than four drinks at one time for women, and greater than five for men.

Let’s step back and understand how alcohol affects the body. Alcohol or ethanol is a chemical substance that most notably affects the central nervous system (CNS). As a person consumes more alcohol, their CNS becomes further impaired. In smaller concentrations, and at early stages of intoxication, alcohol can decrease inhibition. As the concentration of alcohol in the blood rises, a person’s CNS response begins to decrease. This can be seen with unsteady gait, slurred speech, and poor memory. As a person continues to have rising levels of alcohol in the blood they may even become comatose, and at the highest levels breathing can be compromised and death may follow.

For both men and women, intoxication can lead to injuries, embarrassment and serious consequences. If you are unsure if alcohol is something you are struggling with, consider asking yourself how it is impacting your life. If you find that you lose control more often than not when drinking, you may need help. Another area of concern would be that you have suffered serious consequences from alcohol (trouble finishing work, problems with relationships, a DUI, or injury) yet you continue to drink without much change in your habits. Women who suffer from alcohol abuse or dependency oftein either deny that they have a problem or are unaware of what to look for. 

Alcohol consumption can also have a major impact on your health. Many women develop high blood pressure, weight gain, and anemia with prolonged alcohol abuse.  As we age, continued alcohol use can have damaging effects on the heart and lungs and is often one of the contributing factors to strokes and heart attacks. Additionally, alcohol has long been linked to increased risks of breast cancer. This can be especially important for women who already have other underlying risks or a family history of the disease.

With its direct effects on the CNS, alcohol also causes depression, and increases anxiety. It may seem that alcohol reduces anxiety, however depression and anxiety are typically seen in those individuals who consume increased quantities of alcohol or who binge drink.

We all like to enjoy a drink every so often, but if it’s becoming a problem for you or you find yourself recovering from frequent binge drinking episodes don’t feel embarrassed. Speak to your personal physician about your concerns and questions. He or She can give you a detailed evaluation of your alcohol consumption and provide resources to help you.