What is GERD?

Heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD are closely related, but they are all different things. Heartburn is a symptom that can be caused by acid reflux, and acid reflux can progress to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Know the symptoms of GERD, and when to talk to your doctor about acid reflux.

What is GERD?

Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux, is a common digestive health problem. It occurs when stomach acid flows into your esophagus—the tube connecting your mouth and stomach. Gastroesophageal reflux may cause the painful, burning feeling in your chest known as heartburn.

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Gastroesophageal reflux disease is a chronic condition that often results from a weak lower esophageal sphincter. This band of muscle becomes too weak to keep stomach acid from refluxing into the esophagus.

It’s characterized by frequent heartburn (two or more times a week), or by severe heartburn once a week. However, it’s also possible to have GERD without having heartburn. Other GERD symptoms include regurgitation of food or liquid, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, coughing, wheezing.

GERD affects children and adults, and the symptoms can be mild or severe. Symptoms can be worse while lying down or bending over at the waist for some people with GERD.

What can you do about GERD symptoms?

Sometimes lifestyle changes can help manage GERD symptoms:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
  • Wear loose clothing
  • Eat smaller portion sizes.
  • Stop eating a couple of hours before going to bed.
  • Avoid foods that trigger gastroesophageal reflux. For some this means fried foods or foods high in fat. For others this might mean chocolate, peppers, or garlic.
  • Reduce the amount of caffeine you consume.
  • Limit alcohol and avoid tobacco use.

In addition to lifestyle changes there are over-the-counter medicines that can help relieve occasional acid reflux. Antacids help neutralize acid in your stomach, and H2 receptor blockers reduce the amount of acid produced by the cells in the stomach lining.

When should you talk to your doctor about GERD?

Occasional gastroesophageal reflux doesn’t necessarily indicate an underlying problem. It’s common for people to experience acid reflux every once in a while. However, you should still mention it to your doctor at your next wellness exam. The more your doctor knows about your health, the better quality healthcare you receive.

Talk to your primary care physician if you experience persistent or worsening symptoms of GERD, or if you take over-the-counter medicine for acid reflux or heartburn more than once a week. Frequent acid reflux can irritate the lining of your esophagus and it may indicate a health condition that needs treatment. GERD can lead to health problems if left untreated.

Your doctor will determine the best treatment option for you, which may include a referral to a doctor that specializes in disorders of the digestive system, or a gastrolenterologist.