Thanksgiving is here. Christmas is right around the corner. Food will inevitably be part of your celebrations with family and friends. Ironically, the week of Nov. 21-27 is National Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Awareness Week, which comes just in time for Thanksgiving, when many Americans may experience heartburn associated with overeating.

However, if heartburn occurs more frequently, or is associated with additional symptoms, it may be gastroesophageal reflux disease.

An estimated 1 in every 5 American adults suffers from GERD. It is a chronic condition caused by changes in the gastroesophageal valve that allow contents to flow from the stomach back into the esophagus.

Left untreated, GERD can be a lifelong disease. It can lead to bothersome symptoms, which can vary from mild or moderate to severe depending on the individual.

Typical symptoms include burning sensation in the chest (heartburn), regurgitation of food or sour liquid (acid reflux) and difficulty swallowing.

GERD is not an acid problem — instead, it is caused by an anatomical issue. The acid our stomach produces is important for digestion, killing harmful bacteria and helping with the absorption of electrolytes and other nutrients from the foods we consume. GERD occurs when the valve between the stomach and the esophagus is not working properly and fails to keep contents in the stomach from washing back up into the esophagus.

Medications may offer mild to intermittent symptom control, but they do not stop or prevent reflux. Additionally, those who are or may become dependent on daily medication may develop severe complications from GERD, even if no symptoms are experienced. When left untreated, GERD can lead to other health complications including:

■ Damage to the throat or esophagus

■ Inflammation or narrowing of the esophagus

■ Respiratory complications

■ Barrett’s Esophagus

■ Esophageal cancer

If you are reaching for antacids more than twice a week, it’s time to talk with your doctor. If your current medications aren’t working well enough, there are options that may be right for you. Visit the Digestive Health page at WoodlandHeights.net for more information or to find a physician.

Drew Emery is the CEO at Woodland Heights Medical Center. His email address is andrew.emery@woodlandheights.net.