Most people have experienced it at one time or another--that “stinging” sensation in the chest, a queasy feeling in the stomach and a bitter taste in the mouth. Acid reflux disease, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a “burning” problem for more than 15 million Americans. One of the leading gastrointestinal disorders, acid reflux disease is most often characterized by heartburn. When stomach acid travels in the esophagus sufferers become uncomfortable, the esophagus may become inflamed and scarring is possible.
Nearly 8 percent of adults deal with heartburn on a daily basis. In addition, close to 60 percent of adults will suffer with GERD at some point during the course of a year. Acid reflux once was perceived to be a “man’s disease.” It has been proven, however, that women are equally susceptible. A major difference between the sexes is women generally seek medical attention for their symptoms sooner than their male counterparts.
Women and Acid Reflux
Women are likely to have their first encounter with acid reflux disease when they are pregnant. It is estimated that 20 percent of females experience indigestion during the first three months of pregnancy. That number jumps to 40 percent for the next trimester and 70 percent for the final three months. The heartburn may be the result of increased hormone levels or increased pressure in the stomach area caused by a developing embryo. Usually the heartburn symptoms disappear once the baby is born.
Signs and Symptoms
Except for the pregnancy-related symptoms the tell-tale signs of acid reflux disease are similar for men and women. The most common symptoms include burping, problems swallowing, a burning discomfort in the chest (heartburn) that intensifies when sufferers bend over, slouch, lie flat, eat or sleep, a husky voice, upset stomach, increased gag reflex and an inflamed or irritated throat. Often, acid reflux disease resembles that of a heart attack.
Women should be aware of certain “risk” factors that may increase their likelihood of developing acid reflux disease. These factors include being overweight or pregnant, smoking, having a hiatal hernia, asthma, diabetes, sclerodema (connective tissue disorder), Zollinger-Ellison syndrome (a rare illness marked by tumors in the pancreas and/or duodenum), a slowed emptying of the stomach or dry mouth.
Never ignore persistent heartburn or other symptoms of acid reflux disease. Constant irritation or swelling of the esophagus can result in a more serious condition. The body’s food passage can narrow due to scar tissue caused by excessive acid exposure. The same scar tissue impedes swallowing. Too much stomach acid also can produce an esophageal ulcer or precancerous “changes” to the esophagus.