Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a disease that affects the digestive system. The primary cause of GERD is a weak or overly relaxed esophageal muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). There are also several secondary reasons why a person may have GERD, including abnormal stomach muscle function and effects caused by certain medications. In addition, researchers believe that some medical conditions, such as asthma, hiatal hernias, and pregnancy may cause the LES to malfunction and lead to GERD as well.
Before delving into the secondary GERD causes, it is important to understand what causes GERD itself. Generally, it occurs when bile or acids from the stomach flow back into the esophagus. Usually, when a person eats or drinks, the LES relaxes and opens enough to let food and drink flow through the esophagus and into the stomach. Once it lets the food or drink through, it should close again. If the LES is weak or does not relax properly, acids from the stomach can reflux or flow back into the esophagus and this can lead to GERD.
One of the main reasons why the LES malfunctions is abnormal stomach muscle function. When the stomach muscle does not work properly, the stomach does not digest the food quickly enough. As a result, the stomach empties its contents very slowly. This delay puts added pressure on the inside of the stomach and can impair the LES function. As a result, a poorly functioning stomach is one of the many GERD causes.
There are many medications, available by prescription or over-the-counter, that cause the LES to overly relax and then become GERD causes. For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen, may increase the likelihood that a person will be affected by GERD. Other GERD causes include iron pills, antibiotics, sedatives, calcium channel blockers, and dopamine.
Although research is still inconclusive, some scientists believe that certain illnesses may cause GERD. For example, more than 50 percent of the people with asthma also have GERD. As a result, scientists wonder whether asthma causes GERD or if it is actually the GERD that leads to the asthma. Specifically, some researchers believe that the medications used to open the airways during asthma attacks may lead to a weak LES and consequently may cause GERD.
Other GERD causes may include hiatal hernias and pregnancy. For example, a person with a hiatal hernia has a tiny hole in her diaphragm and the stomach pokes through that hole. The hernia itself may cause the LES to malfunction. As a result, the stomach acid can seep back into the esophagus and cause GERD.
With pregnancy, many women suffer from changes in their hormone levels. These hormonal changes can affect the way the LES works. If it is not working properly, it can cause acid to reflux into the esophagus. As a result, GERD causes may include hormonal issues, such as those related to pregnancy.