It’s more than just heartburn.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a serious form of acid reflux or acid regurgitation.
The main symptom of GERD in adults is frequent and consistent heartburn, which may cause a burning sensation in the chest or throat. Reflux that occurs more than twice a week is considered GERD. If left untreated, it can lead to more serious health problems.
Certain lifestyle changes can help treat GERD. These include:
- stopping smoking
- avoiding foods and beverages that make symptoms worse
- losing weight
- and eating smaller and more frequent meal
Symptoms People Often Express
“Soon after eating, I feel a burning sensation in my chest, and it is worse at night.”
“Sometimes I feel as if I have a lump in my throat, and I seem to regurgitate the food I have just eaten.”
“When I have an episode of GERD, I get a sour taste in my mouth and have trouble swallowing.”
There is a band of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus called the esophageal sphincter, and it typically relaxes to allow food to pass into the stomach, and then closes again. GERD occurs when the muscle becomes weak and allows food to flow back up into the esophagus. Certain risk factors, such as obesity, hernia, smoking, eating large meals too late in the evening, or drinking coffee can cause or aggravate GERD. Pregnant women may also be more likely to experience GERD.
Mild GERD may be manageable, but over time, more severe cases of GERD can cause damage to the esophagus, leading to scar tissue and difficulty swallowing food. GERD can also lead to complications such as open sores that make it painful to swallow. In some cases, GERD can cause changes in cells of the esophagus, which leads to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus and can increase the risk of cancer.
If you have occasional bouts of acid reflux that improve with medication, it may not be necessary to consult with a doctor. On the other hand, if you have severe reflux symptoms or feel the need to take over-the-counter heartburn medications more than two times per week, you should consult with a doctor so you can receive proper treatment and prevent complications from GERD. A doctor can prescribe medications, or in some cases, recommend surgery. It is also helpful to understand that while chest pain can sometimes be a sign of GERD, you should receive immediate medical attention if you have chest pain, as it can be a sign of a heart attack.