What is GERD?

GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a digestive disorder. It is caused when gastric acid from your stomach flows back up into your food pipe or esophagus. Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD.

What causes GERD?

GERD happens when gastric acid from your stomach backs up into your food pipe or esophagus.

A muscle at the bottom of the esophagus opens to let food in and closes to keep food in the stomach. This muscle is called the LES or lower esophageal sphincter. When your LES relaxes too often or for too long, acid backs up into your esophagus. This causes heartburn.

Some lifestyle issues that can cause GERD may include:

  • Being overweight
  • Overeating
  • Eating foods such as citrus, chocolate, and fatty or spicy foods
  • Having caffeine
  • Having alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Using aspirin and over-the-counter pain and fever medicines (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs)

Some health problems that may cause heartburn may include:

  • Gastritis, a redness or swelling (inflammation) of your stomach lining
  • Ulcers, painful sores on the lining of your stomach, esophagus or the first part of your small intestine (duodenum)

Who is at Risk for GERD?

You may be more at risk for GERD if you:

  • Have a hiatal hernia
  • Have a weak lower esophageal sphincter or LES
  • Are obese
  • Are pregnant
  • Use some medicines, such as aspirin or over-the-counter pain and fever medicines (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs)
  • Smoke or are around secondhand smoke
  • Drink alcohol
  • Are older
Symptoms

What are the Symptoms of GERD?

Heartburn, also called acid indigestion, or acid reflux, is the most common symptom of GERD. Heartburn is a burning chest pain that starts behind your breastbone and moves up to your neck and throat. It can last as long as 2 hours. It often feels worse after you eat. Lying down or bending over can also cause heartburn.

Another common symptom of GERD is regurgitation. Some people can have trouble swallowing.

Heartburn is not a GERD symptom for most children younger than 12 years old, and for some adults. They may have a dry cough, asthma symptoms, or trouble swallowing instead

Each person’s symptoms may vary. GERD symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see your healthcare provider to be sure.

Diagnosis

How is GERD Diagnosed?

To see if you have GERD, your healthcare provider will give you a physical exam and ask about your past health.

Some people with typical symptoms may be treated without further testing.

Other tests for GERD may include the following:

This test looks at the organs of the top part of your digestive system. It checks your food pipe (esophagus), stomach, and the first part of your small intestine (duodenum). You will swallow a metallic fluid called barium. Barium coats the organs so that they can be seen on an X-ray.

This test looks at the lining or inside of your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. This test uses a thin, lighted tube, called an endoscope. The tube has a camera at one end. The tube is put into your mouth and throat. Then it goes into your esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. Your healthcare provider can see the inside of these organs. He or she can also take a small tissue sample (biopsy) if needed.

This test helps to see if your symptoms are caused by acid in your esophagus. The test is performed by dripping a mild acid through a tube placed in your esophagus.

This test checks the strength of your esophagus muscles. It can see if you have any problems with backward flow of fluid (reflux) or swallowing. A small tube is put into your nostril, then down your throat and into your esophagus. The tube checks how much pressure your esophageal muscles make when they are at rest.

This test checks the pH or acid level in your esophagus. A thin, plastic tube is placed into your nostril, down your throat, and into your esophagus. The tube has a sensor that measures pH level. The other end of the tube outside your body is attached to a small monitor that records your pH levels for 24 to 48 hours. During this time you can go home and do your normal activities. You will need to keep a diary of any symptoms you feel, and also of the food you eat. Your pH readings are checked and compared to your activity for that time period.

Treatment

How is GERD Treated?

Your healthcare provider will make a care plan for you based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and past health
  • How serious your case is
  • How well you handle certain medicines, treatments, or therapies
  • If your condition is expected to get worse
  • What you would like to do

In many cases making diet and lifestyle changes can help reduce GERD symptoms. Always check with your healthcare provider before making any changes.