About 30 to 40 million people in the United States annually complain of frequent heartburn and indigestion, a chronic condition that we describe as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is characterized by regular reflux – the regurgitation of acid and other stomach content into the esophagus. Other symptoms may include difficulty swallowing, coughing, and chest pain.
Although less common, there are several other types of esophageal disorders, and their symptoms sometimes mimic those of GERD. These conditions may be caused by a lower esophageal sphincter (the muscular ring between the esophagus and the stomach) that fails to relax, a weak esophagus wall, poorly coordinated contractions of the esophagus, a narrowing of the esophagus, or tumors.
Diagnosing Esophageal and Motility Disorders
Specialists at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Center for Gastrointestinal Motility employ a variety of endoscopic procedures to determine the nature of a patient’s esophageal condition. This includes the esophageal pH test, which measures the amount of acid that flows from the stomach into the esophagus during a 24-hour period, and esophageal manometry, which evaluates the movement of the esophagus.
Primary treatment for esophageal disorders often includes the use of acid-reducing drugs and the avoidance of certain foods, such as fats, chocolate, and caffeine. The Center for Gastrointestinal Motility also offers innovative techniques, such as a minimally invasive procedure for strengthening the lower esophageal sphincter muscle.
Robert Burakoff, MD, MPH, Director of the Center for Digestive Health, leads the team of specialists who evaluate and treat patients with swallowing disorders, acid reflux disease, and non-acid reflux disease, as well as investigate methods to improve esophageal and motility care. Watch the video below to learn more about gastrointestinal motility disorders and advances in diagnosis and treatment.