Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) happens when stomach acid or stomach contents flow back into the esophagus (tube connecting your mouth and stomach). This backwash (acid reflux) can irritate the lining of your esophagus.
Most people can manage the discomfort of GERD with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. But some people with GERD may need stronger medications or surgery to ease symptoms.
Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
Common signs and symptoms of GERD include:
- A burning sensation in your chest (heartburn)
- Chest pain
- Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
- Sensation of a lump in your throat
- Chronic cough
- New or worsening asthma
What Causes Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
The lower esophageal sphincter is a circular band of muscle around the bottom of your esophagus. This relaxes while swallowing to allow food and liquid to get into your stomach. The sphincter then closes to prevent backflow.
If the sphincter relaxes abnormally, stomach acid can flow back up into your esophagus. This backwash of acid irritates the lining of your esophagus
Diagnosis of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
GERD can be diagnosed by the history of your signs and symptoms. Further testing may be needed to confirm a diagnosis of GERD, or to check for complications. These tests include:
- Upper endoscopy with biopsies.
- Ambulatory acid (pH) probe test.
- X-ray of your upper digestive system with contrast.
Treatment of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- Dietary and lifestyle modifications
- Over the counter medications: Antacids, H-2-receptor blockers, and low dose proton pump inhibitors
- Prescription medications: Higher dose H-2-receptor blockers and proton pump inhibitors
- Surgery: Considered in patients who can’t tolerate medications or have symptoms despite medical treatment
When to See a Doctor
You should seek immediate medical care if you
- Trouble swallowing
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent symptoms despite making dietary and lifestyle changes