The acidity of our stomach is one of several factors that contribute to the breakdown and digestion of the foods we eat. Like many other systems in our body, this acid level must be kept in careful balance. Problems occur when too much acid is produced, or there are changes in the strength (pH) of the acid in our stomach. When this occurs and that acid, and other stomach contents, travels backwards from our stomach up our esophagus (food pipe) we use the term Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) to describe it. GERD has become very common for a number of reasons, particularly related to our often poor "western diet" and increasing levels of obesity in the U.S.
While GERD typically results in the classically associated "heartburn" symptoms, not all patients with reflux will present with heartburn. When acid reflux from the stomach reaches all the way up the esophagus to the back of the throat, we term the process Laryngopharyngeal Reflux or LPR. LPR is commonly referred to as "silent reflux" because the majority of patients will not report classic heartburn symptoms. More common symptoms of LPR include a feeling of something stuck in the throat, mucous in the throat, need for frequent throat clearing, cough, and sometimes even hoarseness. LPR symptoms tend to primarily be an annoyance, but GERD can actually lead to cancer of the esophagus over time, so evaluation and treatment of any reflux symptoms is very important. For more information click on this podcast from WSRQ’s Health Check with Heidi Godman and Dr. J.P. Gniady