SINGAPORE - The Christmas and New Year's festivities are just over, and now the Chinese Lunar New Year is just around the corner.
Typically, during this period, many people will be gorging on food or binging on alcohol. In fact, studies have shown that the average American will put on at least one pound of weight during this period, and this weight gain is not lost over the rest of the year.
A shocking article published in Daily Mail in 2011 reported that the average tourist will gain about eight pounds in two weeks if travelling to America, with its huge food proportion and all-you-can-eat buffets.
With this increase in weight and overeating and perhaps over-drinking, many of us will experience indigestion, bloating, burning sensation in the chest, acid taste in the mouth and vomiting.
Many of these are due to gastro-oesophageal reflux disease or also known as GERD. According to Dr Yim Heng Boon, senior consultant gastroenterologist practising at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, GERD is fairly common in Singapore, with a prevalence of 9.9 per cent as reported in year 2000.
What is GERD?
According to the universally accepted Montreal definition, GERD is a condition which develops when the reflux of stomach contents causes troublesome symptoms and/or complications.
Simply put, GERD develops when the normal anti-reflux mechanisms between the stomach and the oesophagus are not functioning properly or cannot cope with the increased backflow.
The backflow of this acid from the stomach to the oesophagus is the cause of the symptoms described above. However, non-classical atypical symptoms can also occur, and these include chronic cough, sore throat, and hoarseness of voice.
The classical reflux symptoms are usually bothersome and may also affect sleep. In fact, studies have shown that GERD can result in a 10 per cent productivity loss at work. Imagine the economic impact GERD can have.
Prolonged exposure of the oesophagus to acid may even predispose one to oesophageal cancer risk, too.
Diagnosis and treatment
If you suspect you have GERD based on the symptoms described above, you may want to adopt back a healthy diet and lifestyle changes.
You should avoid overeating, binge drinking or having irregular meal times. Certain foods that you may love, including chocolates, coffee, alcohol and other fatty foods, are known to precipitate reflux symptoms, too.
You don't necessarily have to avoid them totally, but eat them in moderation. However, if you do notice that a particular food or beverage consistently precipitates the reflux symptoms, you may want to avoid them for a period of time.
Of course, maintaining a healthy weight is always beneficial and may even improve the reflux symptoms.
If your reflux symptoms persist or recur despite all these measures, then it is time to see a doctor. He may prescribe you with medications or may offer you a gastroscopy.
This involves inserting a long thin fibre optic tube through your mouth to the stomach. Your throat will be sprayed with a local anaesthetic or you may even be sedated lightly for the simple five-minute procedure.
The gastroscopy can tell the doctor whether your symptoms are, indeed, due to reflux disease or to other problems - including peptic ulcers, infection, etc.
Occasionally, if the diagnosis is still not certain, further investigations to monitor and document any acid reflux over 24 to 48 hours may be offered to you.
There is no permanent cure for GERD as many factors can precipitate or aggravate the reflux symptoms (short of a surgery in some suitable cases).
However, adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle habit, as well as avoiding overeating or binging on alcohol, will go a long way to prevent or reduce the reflux symptoms.
So the next time you reach for that extra portion of food or extra mug of beer, please remember to slow down if you start to experience some reflux symptoms.
Otherwise, have a healthy, blessed, and happy Lunar New Year ahead!
Dr Yim Heng Boon
Senior Consultant Gastroenterologist
Yim Gastroenterology Liver and Endoscopy Centre
Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre