What is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), better known as acid reflux, is a digestive disorder that is caused by gastric acid (stomach acid) backtracking from the stomach into the esophagus (the passage way from the throat and mouth to the stomach).

The word gastroesophageal refers to the stomach and esophagus, while reflux means to flow back or return. Therefore gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) refers to the return of acidic stomach juices, food and/or fluids, back up into the esophagus.

What are the symptoms of GERD?

While individuals may experience symptoms differently, heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD. Heartburn, also known as acid indigestion, is described as a burning chest pain that begins behind the breastbone and moves up toward the neck and throat. It can last as long as two hours and is often worse after eating. Lying down or bending over can also result in heartburn.

Another common symptom is regurgitation, or the feeling of acid or undigested food backing up into your mouth or throat. Regurgitation most commonly occurs when lying down after eating.

Most children younger than 12 years of age, and some adults, diagnosed with GERD experience a dry cough, asthma symptoms, or trouble swallowing, instead of heartburn.

The symptoms of GERD may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

What causes GERD?

GERD typically occurs when acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle located at the bottom of the esophagus, opens to let food in and closes to contain it within the stomach. When this muscle relaxes too often, or for too long, acid refluxes back into the esophagus resulting in heartburn.

Another cause of GERD is hiatal hernia. This condition occurs when the upper part of the stomach pushes up into the chest through the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The stomach can be squeezed by the diaphragm, causing acid to back up in to the esophagus.

Typical lifestyle factors that cause and/or worsen GERD may include the following:

  • Being overweight
  • Overeating
  • Consuming certain foods, such as citrus, chocolate, fatty, and spicy foods
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen

Other conditions associated with heartburn may include the following:

  • Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
  • Ulcer disease