• GERD – Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

  • Why can’t I eat like I used to?

    When I was a young kitten I could eat anything, anytime, anywhere. I loved sardines, anchovies and kippers.  Now, spicy, hot, intense foods give me indigestion, heartburn and a troublesome cough. Is this part of getting older?

    Here is what my Cat Doctor told me.

    Heartburn, which is caused by gastric reflux, often impacts cats (and people) with sleep apnea. There is a strong link between GERD Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease and Sleep Disordered Breathing. If you have GERD you are twice a likely to experience sleep difficulties as compared to a person without this condition. You are likely to see your doctor more frequently, be less productive at work and have difficulty doing the ordinary things you like to do. He said it was very important to have it evaluated and treated so that it doesn’t turn into something worse, like throat cancer!

    What causes GERD?

    Stomach acid flows into your throat (esophagus) if the valve (sphincter) between your stomach and lower end of your esophagus becomes weak or relaxes. This valve is a ring of muscle that can become weak. Here are some of the symptoms you will feel if this happens:

    • a burning sensation, usually felt in the chest, just behind your breastbone
    • a dry cough that will be hard to stop, especially when you are lying down
    • a sour, acid taste in your mouth, burping and/or bloating especially after you eat
    • difficult, or even painful, swallowing
    • chronic bronchitis or esophagitis

    In some cases, known as Silent GERD, you will not have symptoms at all! This can be serious because you will be unaware of damage that might be occurring. If you have GERD,  go to a GI specialist (Gastroenterologist) for further evaluation. This doctor will make sure you do not have some other medical condition or damage to your throat, such as esophagitis or even cancer.

    What does a GI Specialist do?

    • This doctor will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical examination
    • An upper endoscopy may be needed to look at the lining of your esophagus, stomach and upper intestine. This procedure is used to identify inflammation, cellular changes or other abnormalities.
    • Esophageal pH monitoring is another test that can be used to measure the level of acid in the esophagus over a 24-96 hour period.

    How does medical treatment of GERD help?

    • You will sleep better and will be less sleepy during the daytime.
    • You will have more energy to do the things you like to do
    • You will prevent permanent damage to your throat.

    Treatment approaches include Life-Style Changes, Medications and sometimes, Surgery.

  • Life-Style Changes you can make to help yourself

    1. Sleep on your left side. This is the position that has been found to best reduce acid reflux. Sleeping on your right side seems to prompt relaxation of the muscles that normally prevent stomach contents from entering your throat
    2. Lose weight, if needed. Excess weight increases pressure on the stomach and can push acid into the esophagus
    3. Practice Mindfulness while eating. Stress increases acid production in the stomach
    4. Eat at least three to four hours before going to bed. Avoid bedtime snacks
    5. Eat smaller meals and maintain an upright, relaxed posture after eating
    6. Avoid fats, onions, chocolate and alcohol
    7. Check your medications. Some medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen, progestin-containing hormones and certain antidepressants may cause more symptoms. Ask your doctor about the medications you take
    8. Always swallow medication in the upright position and wash it down with lots of water
    9. Avoid tight clothing, waistbands and belts that put pressure on the stomach
    10. If you are a smoker, stop smoking. Nicotine stimulates production of stomach acid and impairs the function of the lower esophageal sphincter.

    Medications commonly used to treat GERD:

    • Proton Pump Inhibitors, or PPI’s for short, are used to block the stomach’s acid production. Prilosec, Prevacid and Nexium are examples of these medications.
    • Antacids can be bought in drug or even grocery stores. Most common examples are Tums, Milk of Magnesia, Pepto Bismal, Maalox, Mylanta or Rolaids. They work faster than acid-suppressing medications. They can provide temporary relief but do not prevent symptoms from returning.
    • Surgery may be an option. Several methods are available to reinforce the lower esophageal sphincter which recreates the “one-way valve” that is meant to prevent acid reflux.

    Now that I have learned about GERD, I eat cat-food only. None of those extra spicy, bony fish for me. My Cat-Doctor convinced me this will improve my health in the long term and I will many more cat adventures.