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GERD and Heartburn Medications

What Is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/Heartburn?

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition that causes the esophagus to become irritated and inflamed because acid (gastric juices) from the stomach and also duodenal juices (for example, bile, pancreatic secretions) leak back or reflux into the esophagus.
  • Heartburn is an uncomfortable but common feeling of burning or warmth in the chest. Although the burning associated with heartburn is felt in the chest, it has nothing to do with the heart. Instead, heartburn is a typical symptom due to GERD.

What Causes GERD and Heartburn?

The food a person swallows travels from the mouth to the stomach through a hollow tube called the esophagus (the food pipe). Before entering the stomach, food must pass through a tight muscle at the lower part of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a defense mechanism that prevents food from traveling backward into the esophagus.

In the stomach, stomach acid assists in continuing the digestion of food. This acid is very strong and can damage most parts of the body. The stomach is protected from its own acid by a special mucous layer. The esophagus, however, does not have any such special protection. If the LES does not close properly, the lower part of the esophagus can be damaged by stomach acid and GERD can occur. When this happens, a person may experience heartburn.

Conditions such as hiatal hernia, pregnancy, obesity, or diabetes may predispose individuals to reflux disease. Also certain medications (beta agonists, calcium channel blockers, nitrates, anticholinergics) and foods (fatty meals, alcohol, coffee etc.) can cause transient relaxation of the LES muscle, which renders the LES inadequate to prevent reflux into the esophagus. As a result GERD develops.

Infants, particularly premature infants, commonly experience reflux disease, and adults over the age of 40 have a higher prevalence of GERD.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2017
Medical and Pharmacy Editor:

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Heartburn FAQs

  • Q: What is heartburn?
  • A: Heartburn is an uncomfortable feeling of burning or warmth in the chest.
  • Q: What causes heartburn?
  • A: Heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. Instead, heartburn is caused by the upward movement of stomach acid into the esophagus. Heartburn is sometimes called acid indigestion.
  • Q: What is stomach acid?
  • A: Stomach acid is strong acid produced by the stomach to help digest the foods people eat. Normally the acid stays in the stomach. When the acid backs up into the esophagus, it burns and causes the uncomfortable sensation known as heartburn (the cause of heartburn is gastroesophageal reflux disease).

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease »

Gastroesophageal reflux is a normal physiological phenomenon experienced intermittently by most people, particularly after a meal.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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