Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a serious, chronic or long-lasting form of Acid Reflux (also known as GER). Acid Reflux is when the acid produced by your stomach flows backwards, from the stomach up into the esophagus, which is the tube that carries food and liquids from your mouth down to your stomach.
When Acid Reflux occurs more than twice a week for a few weeks, it could be GERD, which over time can lead to more serious health problems.
When your body’s lower esophageal sphincter becomes weak or relaxes when it should not, GERD is the result. This causes the acid produced by the stomach to rise up into the esophagus. The main symptom of GERD is frequent heartburn, though some adults with GERD do not have heartburn.
Causes and Risk Factors
- Abnormalities in the body such as hiatal hernias. Hiatal hernias are common among people over 50 and occur when the upper part of your stomach pushes up through the diaphragm (a sheet of muscle that normally separates the stomach from the chest) into your chest.
- Certain medications, such as asthma medications, calcium channel blockers, and many antihistamines, pain killers, sedatives, and antidepressants
- Having another condition such as asthma or diabetes
- Frequent heartburn or acid indigestion, particularly after consuming acidic foods and drinks, caffeine, and fatty foods
- Persistent sore throat, hoarseness, or laryngitis (swelling and irritation of the voice box that results in losing your voice)
- Pain or difficulty when swallowing
- Chronic cough
- Frequent nausea and/or vomiting
- Pain in the chest or the upper part of the abdomen
- Dental erosion and bad breath
Good news! For many people, GERD can be preventable, depending on the individual. Consult your healthcare provider, but the following steps can help prevent the symptoms:
- Lose weight
- Avoid spicy or acidic foods, including tomatoes, onions and citrus
- Refrain from eating mint or chocolate
- Cut back on coffee or caffeinated beverages
- Avoid carbonated beverages
- Eat smaller meals
- Don’t smoke and reduce your alcohol consumption
- Avoid tight fitting clothing that constricts your waist
Your healthcare provider may be able to diagnose GERD from your description of symptoms. They may also suggest tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms, including are esophageal pH monitoring, endoscopy, and manometry.
If your healthcare provider tells says that you have GERD, her or she will decide how to treat it depending what’s causing your symptoms, how severe they are, and how long you’ve had them.
Questions to Ask Your Health Care Provider
…about Your GI Condition
- What is the name of my condition?
- How severe is my condition? Is my condition considered chronic (long-lasting)?
- Is it hereditary or related to my environment or lifestyle?
- What complications might I experience?
- Does my condition increase my risk for developing any other medical problems?
…about Diagnosing Your Conditions
- What tests are available to diagnose my condition?
- Which of them do you recommend and why?
- What does the test involve?
- What are the side effects of each test?
- How should I prepare for this diagnostic test?
- How long will the test take?
- Will I be able to drive myself home immediately following the test?
- How long will it take to get the results of the test? Should I call for the results, or will someone contact me?
- If my test finds a problem, what will our next steps be?
…about Your Treatment
- Is there a cure for my condition?
- What are my treatment options and which do you recommend?
- What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of this treatment?
- What are the common side effects of the recommended treatment?
- What should I do if I experience severe side effects?
- Should I take any over-the-counter medications (e.g., antacids, aspirin) during treatment?
- How long should it take for the treatment to work?
- Are there any medications that I am already taking or am likely to take that can interact with the medications you are prescribing?
- What types of lifestyle and dietary changes may be helpful to manage my condition during and after treatment?
- Should I schedule appointments with a nutritionist, dietician, or other health care specialist? How often should I be seen for follow-up appointments?
- Are there any clinical trials available for my condition?
Common treatments include:
- Losing weight if necessary
- Making dietary and lifestyle changes, such as:
- Avoiding foods that make your symptoms worse
- Quitting smoking and avoiding being around smokers
- Not laying down within 3 hours of eating (this may prevent acid from rising)
- When lying in bed, sleep with your head raised 6 to 8 inches on a pillow
- Wearing loose-fitting clothing around the stomach area (tight clothing can increase reflux)
- Medications including:
- Antacids for relief or heartburn
- Proton pump inhibitors or H2 blockers to help heal the esophagus
- Surgery (as a last resort)
It is important that if you suffer from any symptoms, or if you suspect you may have GERD, you consult with your healthcare provider. Untreated, it can lead to serious complications, such as esophagitis, which is a chronic irritation of the esophagus that is caused by stomach acid that can damage the lining and lead to bleeding or ulcers. Chronic esophagitis can lead to cancer, and can include such problems as difficulty swallowing and respiratory problems, such as difficulty breathing.
For more info on GI conditions visit:
American Gastroenterological Association
Centers for Disease Control
International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases