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Health care Acid Reflux and GERD: Your Comprehensive Guide

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when the contents of the stomach consistently flow backward into the esophagus, often containing an excess of stomach acid, which can lead to irritation of the esophagus.

Lots of folks might feel a burning sensation in their chest or an upset stomach every now and then. But if you get these feelings more than twice a week, you might have something called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD for short.

GERD is a condition that impacts around 20% of people in the United States. If not treated, it can cause serious problems. Keep reading to find out about the signs, reasons, and ways to treat GERD.


GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, typically presents with the following primary symptoms:

  1. Persistent heartburn: This often starts as a burning sensation in your stomach and can extend upward to affect your chest, neck, and throat.
  2. Unpleasant taste: You may experience a sour or bitter taste in the back of your mouth.
  3. Regurgitation: Food or liquids from your stomach may flow back into your mouth.

In addition to these main symptoms, GERD can also lead to other possible symptoms such as:

Feeling of fullness or a lump in the back of your throat (globus sensation)

  1. Chronic cough
  2. Hoarse voice
  3. Bad breath

Sometimes, folks might feel certain warning signs linked to GERD. These signs often stick around and can get worse even if they’re getting medical help. These warning signs could also suggest there’s something else going on inside your body.

If you are encountering any of these symptoms, seek medical assistance.

 Heartburn or heart attack?

Chest pain can be caused by heartburn or a heart attack, but they’re usually different in how they happen and how they feel.

Heartburn happens when stomach acid flows back into your food pipe (esophagus). This can make your chest feel like it’s burning.

A heart attack happens when your heart doesn’t get enough blood and oxygen because one or more of its main blood vessels are blocked. This can lead to sudden and painful feelings of pressure or squeezing in the middle or left side of your chest. Sometimes, the pain can also move to your neck, jaw, or shoulder.

If you ever experience signs of a heart attack, like feeling breathless or dizzy, don’t wait – seek medical help right away.

Symptoms in infants

Babies often spit up or throw up food, which is normal. However, if your baby does this a lot, it could be a sign of GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).

Here are some simpler ways to describe the signs and symptoms of GERD (acid reflux) in babies:

  1. Baby doesn’t want to eat.
  2. Baby has trouble swallowing.
  3. Baby coughs or chokes often.
  4. Baby burps or hiccups and they’re wet.
  5. Baby seems fussy or arches their back during or after meals.
  6. Baby isn’t gaining weight or growing well.
  7. Baby keeps getting coughs or pneumonia.
  8. Baby has a hard time sleeping.

If you think your baby might have GERD or another health problem, talk to a doctor.


GERD often leads to acid reflux because the valve that keeps stomach acid from flowing back into the food pipe (the lower esophageal sphincter or LES) doesn’t work properly.

The LES is like a muscle ring at the bottom of your food pipe. It acts like a gate: when you eat or drink, it opens to let stuff into your stomach, and then it closes to keep things in there.

Acid reflux occurs when a door in your stomach, called the LES, doesn’t close tightly as it should. This

causes stomach juices and stuff to come back up into your food pipe, known as the esophagus.

Your LES (lower esophageal sphincter) might not work well if:

  1. You have a hiatal hernia: This happens when your stomach moves up into your chest because of a weak diaphragm. A weak diaphragm can make your LES not work right.
  2. You often eat big meals: When you eat a lot at once, it can stretch the upper part of your stomach. This stretch can sometimes make the LES not close tightly enough.
  3. You lay down right after eating: If you lie down too soon after eating, there’s not enough pressure on the LES to keep it working properly.

Other things, like the ones mentioned below, might also make you get heartburn two or more times a week.

Lifestyle factors

Certain lifestyle habits can make acid reflux with esophageal inflammation more likely. These include:

  1. Smoking or being around people who smoke.
  2. Eating big meals right before lying down.
  3. Taking lots of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen.

Health factors

GERD can be influenced by various health factors. These include:

  1. Being overweight
  2. Being pregnant
  3. Having problems with connective tissues
  4. Getting older

Other conditions

GERD symptoms can get worse if you also have:

  1. Anxiety
  2. Being pregnant
  3. Asthma
  4. Irritable bowel syndrome


Research shows that drinking alcohol can make GERD more likely. If you drink a lot of alcohol often, your chances of getting GERD go up even more.

If you’ve been told you have GERD, cutting back or quitting alcohol could help ease your symptoms.

Dietary triggers

Certain foods can make GERD symptoms worse. These include:

  1. Fatty foods like fried and fast food.
  2. Spicy foods.
  3. Some fruits and veggies like pineapple, tomato, and citrus.
  4. Certain drinks like coffee, tea, and fizzy sodas.


Usually, a doctor will ask about your medical history and check your body to understand your symptoms.

If you have worrisome symptoms like chest pain or difficulty swallowing, your doctor might send you to a specialist called a gastroenterologist or order specific tests like:

Ambulatory 24-hour pH probe: A tiny tube goes in through your nose down to your stomach. This tube has a special sensor at the end that checks how much stomach acid touches your food pipe. The sensor sends this information to a small computer you carry with you. You have to wear the tube for around 24 hours.

Esophagram: Doctors give you a special drink with barium, then take X-ray pictures to look at the inside of your upper digestive system.

Upper endoscopy is a procedure where a bendy tube with a small camera goes into your food pipe to check it and take a tiny piece of tissue if necessary.

Esophageal manometry: We insert a bendy tube through your nose into your food pipe to check how strong your food pipe muscles are.

Esophageal pH monitoring: During this test, a small device is placed into your esophagus to track and understand how your body manages stomach acid levels over a period of a few days.

Once your doctor figures out what’s wrong, they’ll talk to you about the best way to make you better.


 Lifestyle strategies

To ease GERD symptoms, you can try some simple things at home:

  1. Do breathing exercises.
  2. Eat foods and drinks that don’t worsen acid reflux.
  3. Keep a healthy weight.
  4. If you smoke, try to quit.
  5. Don’t have big, heavy dinners.
  6. Wait 2–3 hours after eating before lying down.
  7. Raise your head when you sleep.


If lifestyle changes don’t work to treat GERD, your doctor might give you medicines to reduce the acid in your stomach. GERD often causes acid to flow back into your esophagus, which can be painful.

These medicines could be:

  1. Proton pump inhibitors
  2. Antacids
  3. H2 receptor blockers

Before you start taking any of these medicines, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Some of these medicines can have unwanted side effects.


In most cases, lifestyle strategies and medications are enough to prevent and relieve symptoms of GERD.

If your symptoms persist or if complications arise, a doctor may advise surgery as a potential solution.

Some possible surgery options are:


  1. LINX reflux management
  2. Bariatric surgery


GERD usually doesn’t lead to big problems for most folks.

Sometimes, heartburn can cause rare but severe health issues like:

Esophagitis: This means your food pipe gets swollen.

  1. Esophageal Stricture: This is when your food pipe becomes narrow.
  2. Barrett’s Esophagus: It’s when your food pipe’s lining changes forever.
  3. Esophageal Cancer: A tiny number of people with Barrett’s Esophagus get this cancer.
  4. Dental Problems: Heartburn can also harm your teeth and gums.

To reduce your risk of problems, it’s vital to do things that help you avoid, control, and deal with GERD symptoms.

Frequently asked questions

How can you tell if you have GERD?

If you often have problems like heartburn, a burning feeling in your chest, or tummy troubles that come back more than twice a week, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor. These could be signs of something called GERD.

A doctor can figure out if you have GERD by asking about how you feel, checking your body, and looking at your medical history. If you have some serious symptoms, like losing weight without trying or having trouble swallowing, they might want to do some other tests.

What’s the quickest method to treat GERD?

 Simple changes in your daily habits and eating habits can often be the first step in managing acid reflux. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Avoiding certain foods and drinks.
  2. Keeping a healthy weight.
  3. Quitting smoking if you smoke.
  4. Waiting 2–3 hours after eating before lying down.

If changing your lifestyle doesn’t fix the problem, your doctor might give you special medicines like:

  1. Strong tummy acid reducers called ‘proton pump inhibitors’
  2. Basic stomach soothers known as ‘antacids’
  3. ‘H2 receptor blockers’ that can help with acid troubles.

And if none of these work to make you feel better from GERD, you might have to go for a surgery.


If you sometimes get heartburn, don’t worry. You can usually manage it with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medicines.

But if you have heartburn happening more than two times a week, and simple lifestyle changes aren’t making it better, you might have GERD.

If you’ve been told you have GERD, your doctor will work with you to find a treatment that suits you.

Persistent heartburn shouldn’t stop you from enjoying life. If you think you have GERD symptoms, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor.


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