Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) causes your stomach contents to come back up into your esophagus, causing heartburn or acid reflux. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a long-lasting and more serious form of GER.
GERD Awareness Week 2017 takes place from Nov. 19 through 25. This fall, as you sit down to eat turkey or open your Halloween candy, watch out for potential GERD symptoms and contact a provider if you are concerned.
For more information, visit the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) website and read the overview below.
The most common symptom of GERD is regular heartburn, a painful, burning feeling in the middle of your chest, specifically behind your breastbone and in the middle of your abdomen. Not all adults with GERD have heartburn. Other common GERD symptoms include:
- Bad breath
- Pain in your chest or the upper part of your abdomen
- Problems swallowing or painful swallowing
- Respiratory problems
- The wearing away of your teeth
GERD happens when your lower esophageal sphincter becomes weak or relaxes when it shouldn't. This in turn causes stomach contents to rise up into the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter can become weak or relax from things such as:
- Increased pressure on your abdomen from being overweight, obese, or pregnant
- Smoking, or inhaling secondhand smoke
- Certain medicines:
- Those that doctors use to treat asthma
- Medicines that treat high blood pressure
- Antihistamines: medicines that treat allergy symptoms
- Sedatives: medicines that help put you to sleep
- Antidepressants: medicines that treat depression
Anyone, including infants and children, can have GERD. If not treated, it can lead to more serious health problems. In some cases, you might need medicine or surgery. However, many people can improve their symptoms by:
- Avoiding alcohol and spicy, fatty, or acidic foods that trigger heartburn
- Eating smaller meals
- Not eating close to bedtime
- Losing weight if needed
- Wearing loose-fitting clothes
- Quitting smoking
When to see a provider
See a provider if your gastroesophageal reflux symptoms do not get better with over-the-counter medicines or changing your diet. If your symptoms don't improve with lifestyle changes and medicine, you may need testing and may be referred to a specialist.
Tests to diagnose GERD
- Upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy and biopsy: A provider uses an endoscope to see inside your upper GI tract. This procedure takes place at a hospital or an outpatient center.
- Upper GI series: An upper GI series looks at the shape of your upper GI tract using x-rays.
- Esophageal pH impedance monitoring: Measures the amount of acid in your esophagus while you do normal things, such as eating and sleeping.
- Esophageal manometry: Measures muscle contractions in your esophagus. A gastroenterologist may order this procedure if you're thinking about anti-reflux surgery.