Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious form of gastroesophageal reflux more commonly known as heartburn or acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter opens spontaneously, or does not close properly, and stomach contents rise up into the esophagus.
When acid reflux occurs, food or fluid can be tasted in the back of the mouth. When refluxed stomach acid touches the lining of the esophagus it may cause a burning sensation in the chest or throat called heartburn or acid indigestion. Occasional acid reflux is common and does not necessarily mean one has GERD. Persistent reflux that occurs more than twice a week is considered GERD, and it can eventually lead to more serious health problems.
Symptoms of acid reflux include:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Difficulty swallowing
Acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD affect people of all ages. Although reasons why it develops are still unclear, some factors may contribute to an individual’s risk. Risk factors for developing acid reflux, heartburn, or GERD are:
- Anatomical abnormalities, such as a hiatal hernia
- Consuming certain types of foods, especially fatty foods, chocolate and mint
- Lifestyle habits, such as smoking (or other nicotine habits) and consuming alcohol and caffeine
When to See a Doctor
Occasional heartburn or acid reflux is common and typically resolves with over-the-counter medications. When symptoms occur more frequently (two or more times per week), seem severe or do not respond to medication, it’s time to see a doctor. If left untreated, chronic acid reflux can lead to more serious complications.
Treatment options for acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD vary depending on the individual and may include the following:
- Follow a special diet
- Avoid eating shortly before bedtime
- Lifestyle changes, such as, smoking cessation, weight loss, diet and eating habits
- Medications, such as over-the-counter antacids and acid blockers, prescriptions or a combination.
The foremost diagnostic "test" for any condition is a thorough exam and consultation with a physician, including a review of your individual and family history. In addition, your physician may recommend any of the following tests or procedures, which may provide further diagnostic value:
- Upper GI Endoscopy (EGD)
- Esophageal motility study
- pH monitoring
You may not be able to prevent GERD from developing, but you can make lifestyle changes, which may decrease the symptoms associated with GERD and your risk of developing other, more serious, health problems.
Learn more about acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD with the following resources: