Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) results when gastric acid, food and liquid from the stomach chronically flow up into the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach).
While most Americans suffer from heartburn at one time or another, it is estimated that 17 million Americans suffer from chronic GERD.
What Causes GERD?
GERD occurs when a weak muscle at the bottom of your esophagus lets the contents of your stomach travel up, out of your stomach.
Along with dozen of other conditions, hernias, ulcers, scleroderma and some medications can weaken this muscle.
Lifestyle factors that can increase the risk of heartburn or GERD include:
- Exercising right after eating (especially jogging or strenuous activity)
- Lying down soon after meals
- Bending over or straining, especially soon after meals
- Alcohol (especially excess) use
- Eating chocolate
- Drinking carbonated beverages, caffeinated beverages and decaffeinated coffee
- Eating spicy foods or acidic foods like citrus or tomatoes
The Effects of GERD
Untreated, GERD can cause longterm complications, like:
- Esophagitis – inflammation of the esophagus
- Bleeding and ulcers in the esophagus
- Dental problems (due to the effect of stomach acid on tooth enamel)
- Chronic laryngitis
- Asthma attacks and/or pneumonia
- Barrett’s esophagus – a precancerous condition that can lead to esophageal cancer
- Esophageal cancer – may develop in patients who have Barrett’s esophagus
The most common symptoms of GERD include:
- Heartburn – a burning feeling that starts in the lower chest and may move up the throat
- Frequent, persistent, recurrent or chronic indigestion:
- Upper abdominal pain or discomfort following a meal
- Burping, bloating, heartburn, nausea and vomiting
- Sour or bitter taste in the back of mouth or throat
- Symptoms worsen when bending over, lying down, exercising or lifting heavy objects
GERD can also lead to bad breath, sore throat, cough, insomnia, wheezing, chest pain and sleep apnea.
GERD Treatment Options
We can help you find relief. We can support eating and exercise habits that can prove effective as GERD treatment.
If GERD persists, you may choose surgery, called fundoplication.
Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.