Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) FAQs (cont.)
Kathryn L Hale, MS, PA-C
Vincent W Yang, MD, PhD
Simmy Bank, MD, MB, ChB
Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
BS Anand, MD
IN THIS ARTICLE
Does GERD affect my heart?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease and heartburn have nothing to do with the heart. The esophagus lies just behind the heart, so heartburn can be confused with a heart problem. One important difference is that heartburn usually does not start or get worse with physical activity, while pain related to the heart often comes on with exertion (angina).
What is the esophagus?
The esophagus is the tube stretching from the throat to the stomach. All the foods and liquids that are swallowed travel through the esophagus.
What is stomach acid?
It is a strong acid produced by the stomach to help digest food.
Why doesn't the acid irritate the stomach?
The stomach has a protective lining that resists damage by the acid. The thick cells that line the stomach secrete large amounts of protective mucus. The esophagus does not have this protection.
Why does the acid back up into the esophagus?
Normally, a ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), prevents reflux of acid. This muscle acts like a drawstring to open or close off the opening between the esophagus and stomach. It is supposed to close tightly between bites and when you are not eating.
With gastroesophageal reflux disease, the lower esophageal sphincter relaxes between swallows and after eating, allowing stomach contents and corrosive acid to back up and burn or irritate the lining of the esophagus.
How does GERD differ from plain old heartburn?
The problem is the same in heartburn and GERD. The condition is called GERD when it becomes a frequent, persistent (chronic) problem.
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