If you have heartburn more than just once in a while, it may be a sign that you have GERD.
An occasional burning sensation in your chest after eating can usually be chalked up to a case of heartburn. But if this feeling occurs often or is accompanied by other symptoms, it may be an indication that you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
How do you know if you have GERD and not just run-of-the-mill heartburn? If you have some or all of the symptoms listed below, and your symptoms occur often (not just once in a blue moon), it’s probably time to talk to a doctor who can confirm a diagnosis and discuss treatment options with you.
What is GERD?
GERD is a chronic form of acid reflux, a condition that occurs when stomach acid flows back into your esophagus (the tube connecting your mouth and stomach). This acid can irritate the delicate lining of your esophagus, causing heartburn and a number of uncomfortable symptoms.
What are the symptoms of GERD?
The most common sign of GERD is heartburn. This can be characterized as a burning sensation in your upper abdomen or chest that may range from mild to severe. It usually occurs after eating but may also be worse at night, when you lie down or when you bend over. Other symptoms may include:
A burning, sharp, or tight sensation in your chest
A bitter or sour taste in your mouth or throat
Regurgitation of food or liquid
Feeling like you have a lump in your throat
A persistent cough
A sore throat
Laryngitis (inflamed vocal cords)
New or worsening asthma
Damage to tooth enamel (due to excess acid)
If you have chest pain, especially if it is accompanied by symptoms such as pain in your arm or jaw, shortness of breath, feeling lightheaded or faint, breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, vomiting, or extreme fatigue, seek immediate medical care. These may be signs of a heart attack.
What causes GERD?
There’s a circular muscle at the bottom of your esophagus where it meets the stomach, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This muscle is supposed to tighten after food passes from your esophagus into your stomach. If this muscle doesn’t tighten properly, it allows acid from your stomach to move back into your esophagus. This is referred to as acid reflux. Some people only experience occasional heartburn due to acid reflux, but if you have GERD, symptoms are more likely to happen often.
How is GERD treated?
GERD is typically treated with lifestyle changes and medication. Lifestyle changes often include adjustments to your diet and losing weight. Not wearing tight-fitting clothing, eating smaller meals, staying upright for a few hours after eating, and not smoking or drinking alcohol may also help. Medications are designed to reduce the effects of stomach acid on the esophagus or lower the amount of acid produced by the stomach.
People find different levels of effectiveness in treating their symptoms with lifestyle changes and medications. In some cases, surgery may be needed to reinforce the lower esophageal sphincter, but this is usually a last-resort option.
To learn more about acid reflux, treatment options at Dignity Health Bakersfield, and to take a quick online assessment to find out if you are at risk for GERD, click here.
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Date Last Reviewed: September 13, 2022
Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor
Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD