Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is when contents of your stomach persistently move back up into your esophagus. These contents sometimes contain excessive acid and may irritate your esophagus.
Many people may experience acid reflux, indigestion, or heartburn from time to time. However, if you experience acid reflux symptoms more than twice per week, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If left untreated, it may lead to serious complications.
The most common symptom of GERD is persistent heartburn, which may involve:
• a burning feeling in your stomach that may rise to your
chest, neck, and throat
• a sour or bitter taste at the back of your mouth
• regurgitation of food or liquid from your stomach into your mouth
Other possible symptoms of GERD include:
• a feeling of fullness or of a lump in the back of your throat (globus sensation)
• a hoarse voice
• bad breath
• chronic cough
In some cases, people may experience alarm symptoms associated with GERD. These are typically persistent and could progressively worsen despite medical treatment. Alarm symptoms may also indicate an underlying condition.
Alarm symptoms may include:
• difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
• nausea or vomiting
• pain when swallowing (odynophagia)
• weight loss
If you’re experiencing any of these, get medical attention.
GERD commonly causes acid reflux, which may result from improper functioning of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
The LES is a circular band of muscle at the end of your esophagus. When you swallow, it relaxes and opens up to allow food and liquid to travel from your mouth to your stomach. Then, it tightens and closes again.
Acid reflux happens when your LES doesn’t tighten or close properly. This allows digestive juices and other contents of your stomach to rise up into your esophagus.
Your LES may not function properly if you:
• Have a hiatal hernia: This occurs when part of your stomach moves above your diaphragm toward your chest. If your diaphragm is compromised, it may prevent your LES from functioning properly.
• Frequently eat large meals: This may cause distension of the upper part of your stomach. This distension sometimes means there isn’t enough pressure on the LES, and it doesn’t close properly.
• Lie down too soon after meals: This might not create enough pressure for the LES to function properly.
Other factors, including those listed below, may also contribute to having heartburn more than twice a week.
• eating large meals before lying down
• smoking or being exposed to secondhand smoke
• using an abundance of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen
• connective tissue disorders
• older age
• irritable bowel syndrome
Studies suggest that drinking alcohol may increase the risk of GERD. The greater the quantity of alcohol and frequency of consumption, the greater the correlation.
If you’ve received a diagnosis of GERD, limiting or stopping alcohol intake may provide symptom relief.
Some foods may trigger GERD symptoms more than others, including:
• certain fruits and vegetables, such as pineapple, tomato, and citrus
• certain liquids, such as coffee, tea, and carbonated drinks
• high fat foods such as fried and fast foods
• spicy foods
Diagnosis and Treatment
A doctor will typically take your medical history and perform a physical examination to assess your symptoms.
If you’re experiencing alarm symptoms, such as chest pain or trouble swallowing, they may refer you to a gastroenterologist or request certain tests.
To manage and relieve symptoms of GERD, certain home remedies and lifestyle habits may help, including:
• avoiding eating big, heavy meals in the evening
• breathing exercises
• elevating your head during sleep
• making efforts to maintain a moderate weight
• quitting smoking, if you smoke
• waiting 2–3 hours after eating to lie down
If lifestyle strategies alone don’t help treat GERD, a doctor might prescribe medications to decrease your stomach acid secretion, since acid reflux is a common manifestation of GERD.
These may include:
• H2 receptor blockers
• proton pump inhibitors
Consult a doctor before taking medications because they may have negative side effects.
In most cases, lifestyle strategies and medications are enough to prevent and relieve symptoms of GERD. However, a doctor might recommend surgery if these approaches haven’t stopped your symptoms or if you’ve developed complications.
Possible surgery options include:
• bariatric surgery
• LINX reflux management system
For most people, GERD doesn’t cause serious complications. However, in rare cases, it may lead to serious or life threatening health problems such as:
• Barrett’s esophagus, which involves permanent changes to the lining of your esophagus
• esophageal cancer, which affects a small portion of people with Barrett’s esophagus
• esophageal stricture, which happens when your esophagus narrows or tightens
• esophagitis, which is inflammation of your esophagus
• tooth enamel erosion, gum disease, or other dental problems
To lower your chances of complications, it’s important to take the steps to prevent, manage, and treat symptoms of GERD.