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Symptoms and Signs of GERD Questions (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

Doctor's Notes on GERD FAQs
(Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease )

An answer to the common question What is GERD?” is that GERD is a condition in which stomach contents, including acid, backup (reflux) from the stomach into the esophagus and sometimes even the throat, causing the esophagus to become irritated and/or inflamed. GERD is also known as acid indigestion. The main sign and symptoms of GERD is frequent heartburn with pain or burning sensation in the stomach and/or upper abdomen. Other signs and symptoms of GERD may include regurgitation of acid into throat, taste in the mouth, a persistent dry cough, hoarseness, tightness in the throat, wheezing, bad breath and in some patients, feeling like a piece of food is stuck in the throat. Some burning symptoms start about 30 to 60 minutes after eating and can last as long as a couple of hours.

Causes of GERD include the following: a person’s lifestyle (smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol intake, eating large meals close to bed time), some medications like NSAIDs, foods (for example fried foods, spicy foods, citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate, garlic, onions, caffeine and mint) and medical conditions (for example hiatal hernia, pregnancy, diabetes).

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019

GERD FAQs
(Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease ) Symptoms

Call your health-care pprofessional if you have any symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that occur frequently, disrupt your sleep, interfere with work or other activities, or are not relieved by taking nonprescription antacids. If you have heartburn 3 or more times a week for at least 2 weeks, a visit to your health-care professional is warranted.

If you have been taking antacids, tell your health care provide so that he or she can monitor how well they work and how often you need to use them.

  • Don't eat within 3 hours of bedtime. This allows your stomach to empty and acid production to decrease. If you don't eat, your body isn't making acid to digest the food.
  • Similarly, don't lie down right after eating at any time of day.
  • Elevate the head of your bed 6 by inches with blocks, bricks, or books. Gravity helps prevent reflux. Just using more pillows won't help, because that actually increases the pressure on your stomach.
  • Don't eat large meals, especially before bedtime. Eating a lot of food at one time increases the amount of acid needed to digest it. Eat smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day.
  • Avoid fatty or greasy foods, chocolate, caffeine, mints or mint-flavored foods, spicy foods, citrus, and tomatoes. These foods can irritate the already damaged lining of the esophagus.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol without eating food, and definitely avoid drinking alcohol before bed. Alcohol increases the likelihood of acid backing up from your stomach.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking weakens the lower esophageal sphincter and increases reflux.
  • Lose excess weight. Overweight and obese people are much more likely to have bothersome reflux than people of healthy weight.
  • Stand upright or sit up straight, maintain good posture. This helps food and acid pass through the stomach instead of backing up into the esophagus.
  • Talk to your health-care professional if you take over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). These can aggravate reflux in some people.

Some of these changes are difficult for many people to make. Talk to your health-care professional if you need some tips on losing weight or quitting smoking. Knowing that your symptoms will get better may keep you motivated.

Will these lifestyle changes stop the symptoms?

They may. If they don't, adding a nonprescription antacid or acid blocker can be helpful.

  • Not everyone with gastroesophageal reflux disease has heartburn.
  • Other symptoms of GERD include
    • regurgitation of bitter acid up into the throat while sleeping or bending over;
    • bitter taste in the mouth; persistent dry cough;
    • hoarseness (especially in the morning);
    • feeling of tightness in the throat, as if a piece of food is stuck there;
    • wheezing; and
    • bad breath.

The most common symptoms of acid reflux in children are

  • Not everyone with gastroesophageal reflux disease has heartburn.
  • Other symptoms of GERD include
    • regurgitation of bitter acid up into the throat while sleeping or bending over;
    • bitter taste in the mouth; persistent dry cough;
    • hoarseness (especially in the morning);
    • feeling of tightness in the throat, as if a piece of food is stuck there;
    • wheezing; and
    • bad breath.

The most common symptoms of acid reflux in children are

The best and safest way to prevent reflux from occurring is to change the things that cause reflux. Gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms usually can be prevented by simple lifestyle modifications in diet, activity, and habits. Watching what kinds of foods you eat and how much you eat can reduce your symptoms. Also, pay attention to your body position after eating. Don't lie down. Limit alcohol intake, quit smoking, and lose weight to improve not only your GERD symptoms but also your overall health.

The best and safest way to prevent reflux from occurring is to change the things that cause reflux. Gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms usually can be prevented by simple lifestyle modifications in diet, activity, and habits. Watching what kinds of foods you eat and how much you eat can reduce your symptoms. Also, pay attention to your body position after eating. Don't lie down. Limit alcohol intake, quit smoking, and lose weight to improve not only your GERD symptoms but also your overall health.

GERD FAQs
(Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease ) Causes

We don't know the exact cause of gastroesophageal reflux disease. We do know what makes it worse, either by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter or directly by irritating the esophagus.

  • Lifestyle - Use of alcohol or cigarettes, obesity, poor posture (slouching)
  • Medications - Blood pressure drugs called calcium channel blockers, theophylline (Tedral, Hydrophed, Marax, Bronchial, Quibron), nitrates, antihistamines
  • Diet - Fatty and fried foods, chocolate, garlic and onions, drinks with caffeine, acidic foods such as citrus fruits and tomatoes, spicy foods, mint flavorings
  • Eating habits - Eating large meals, eating before bedtime
  • Other medical conditions, for example, hiatal hernia, pregnancy, diabetes

Heartburn (Acid Reflux, GERD) Causes and Remedies Slideshow

Heartburn (Acid Reflux, GERD) Causes and Remedies Slideshow

Heartburn is a burning sensation in the middle of the chest behind the breastbone and in the middle of the abdomen. It occurs when acid and other contents of the stomach travel up the esophagus and irritate the tissues. A faulty stomach valve allows acid and stomach contents to escape and cause the burning sensation. Approximately 60 million Americans suffer from the condition at least once a month. Approximately 15 million Americans suffer from it daily. Eating spicy foods and overeating are common triggers of the symptom. Indigestion is another name for heartburn.

REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.

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