Chronic heartburn and acid reflux are symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This disease can result in the wearing away of the tube between the stomach and throat. When wearing away does not occur, a specific type of GERD occurs. This type is non-erosive reflux disease (NERD).
The rates of GERD in the US are very large, affecting 1 in 5 people. Most of those cases are actually the NERD type. This works out to 14% of Americans experiencing NERD. It affects men and women at equal rates, and in the USA rates are constant across racial lines.
Several factors can increase the chances of getting NERD. Your chances are increased with:
- Age, peaking around 70 years old
- Drinking excessive coffee
- Drinking excessive alcohol
- Eating large amounts of food
- Eating fatty foods
- Eating at night
NERD does not destroy the esophagus, but comes with its own host of issues. Heartburn and irritation of the food tube define NERD, and are uncomfortable on their own. It can also cause chest pain, vomiting, asthma, coughs, and sleeping problems. Furthermore, a major class of GERD-targeting drugs are less effective on the non-erosive form, NERD. These drugs are called proton-pump-inhibitors.
Proton pump inhibitors are the most effective medications for treating GERD. Major name-brand proton-pump-inhibitors include Prilosec, Protonix, Nexium, Prevacid, and several others. The generic names are omeprazole, pantoprazole, esomeprazole, and others. All of these work by reducing the stomach’s ability to make stomach acid, lowering its ability to burn. As a result, GERD is both less painful and less destructive to the esophagus.
Several people experiencing NERD are resistant to proton-pump-inhibitors. There are several possible reasons. In some patients, high concentrations of stomach acid isn’t the cause of their issues. In fact, only around half of NERD patients have abnormal acid levels, so lowering stomach acid may not be helpful as a treatment. These patients may have acid reflux even when acid levels are normal. They may also have a particularly sensitive esophagus. This could result in the feeling of heartburn even with lower acid levels. These patients need new treatments to help manage NERD. With luck, a clinical trial will pave the way to widespread adoption of an effective treatment soon!