President Barack Obama was recently diagnosed with GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, a condition he shares with millions of Americans. Luke Funk, MD, MPH, is an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Wisconsin and specializes in minimally invasive surgical techniques for the treatment of esophageal and gastric disorders, including GERD.
According to Dr. Funk, the most common symptoms for GERD are heartburn, regurgitation of food, and occasionally difficulty swallowing. Less commonly, patients may experience hoarseness or asthma-like symptoms such as wheezing and cough. Severe throat pain and painful swallowing typically are not related to GERD.
Dr. Funk recommends that patients with reflux symptoms follow up with their primary care physicians to discuss their treatment options. Most patients’ symptoms improve with changes in lifestyle, such as dietary modifications, cessation of smoking, and/or weight loss. Taking acid-blocking medications such as Prilosec or Prevacid are also a part of the initial treatment of GERD. Most patients improve with these therapies. However, patients who experience ongoing symptoms despite these changes warrant additional evaluation including endoscopy and possible definitive testing for reflux. This will help identify patients who may benefit from surgical intervention and will also identify patients whose symptoms are likely not caused by reflux.