Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – a recurring form of acid reflux – affects as much as 30 percent of the U.S. population, including infants and children.
It’s a chronic condition that can create lasting, and sometimes serious problems. But it’s just one of many common digestive issues – such as irritable bowel syndrome and some forms of cancer – that can impact an individual’s lifestyle or overall health.


“Most people will get heartburn from time to time, but if you experience a problem two or more times a week for several weeks, you may have GERD,” explained Charles G. Phan, M.D., board-certified gastroenterologist with Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital. “The good news is that many cases of GERD can be properly managed with medication and lifestyle changes.”




GERD is caused by weakness in the lower esophageal sphincter, which acts as a gate between your esophagus to your stomach – allowing food to pass downward but blocking stomach contents from coming back up. When that sphincter weakens, it allows stomach acids to flow into the esophagus, causing heartburn.


That weakening can be caused by a variety of factors including, overeating, being overweight, pregnancy, smoking or regular exposure to cigarette smoke and existence of a hiatal hernia.


Certain foods that contribute to GERD include, fried or fatty foods, citrus or acidic foods such as oranges or tomato sauce, chocolate, carbonated beverage, alcoholic beverages and coffee.


The first step in treating GERD is seeing a gastroenterologist to identify the specific causes and develop a treatment plan.


“Because GERD can lead to more serious issues, including esophageal cancer, it’s important to have an accurate diagnosis and get treatment as soon as possible,” said Phan. “Most people can improve their symptoms by becoming more active and losing weight, eating smaller meals and avoiding trigger foods. In some cases, minimally-invasive surgery is necessary to tighten the sphincter muscle and prevent reflux.”




Another common digestive problem is irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS – a chronic condition that affects the large intestine causing diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramps, bloating and gas. IBS can have significant negative impacts on sufferers, including anxiety or depression due to frequent, unexpected symptoms.


“Patients with IBS never know when their symptoms will flare up, and that can make every-day activities difficult,” said Phan. “While there is no cure, we can often help patients through a combination of medication, diet modifications and sometimes even counseling. The key to success is to have a strong relationship with your gastroenterologist because every person’s condition is unique, so finding solutions that work often requires a trial-and-error approach.”




Together, cancers of the gastrointestinal tract – including the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, gallbladder and colon – are responsible for more cases and more deaths than any other forms of cancer. The diagnosis and treatment of these cancers take many forms, depending on the location, type and whether the cancer has spread.


“We have more options than ever before for early diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal cancers,” said Kirtan Nautiyal, M.D., fellowship trained hematologist and oncologist at Houston Methodist Oncology Partners at Sugar Land. “Colon cancer, for example, can be easily identified via regular colonoscopy screening, and if a tumor is caught early enough, it is definitely treatable.”


Nautiyal suggests that patients over the age of 50 with no family history of colon cancer start a colonoscopy regimen. Those with a family history, or patients with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, should start earlier.


“If you are at higher risk, talk with a gastroenterologist about when you should have your first colonoscopy,” said Nautiyal.




Join gastroenterologist Charles Phan, M.D., and hematologist/oncologist Kirtan Nautiyal, M.D., for a free and informative seminar on digestive health. The two physicians will cover a range of digestive issues, including GERD, IBS and various types of cancers, and discuss symptoms, diagnostic tools and the latest and most sophisticated treatment options.


The seminar is scheduled for Thursday, March 21 at 6 p.m. in the Brazos Pavilion Conference Center at Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital. Registration is required. To register visit or call 281.274.7500.