Gastroesophageal reflux disease is also known as GERD. This occurs when stomach acid flows back through the esophagus, which connects the stomach and mouth. This is also known as acid reflux, which can irritate your esophagus.

Some people only experience acid reflux from time to time. Someone can experience a mild case of GERD, which would only be once a week, or a mild case which would occur more than once a week.

Generally, people can handle the symptoms that come with GERD, and make lifestyle changes that will reduce the symptoms. However, more severe cases cause people to be put on stronger medications.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Symptoms.

Here are some common symptoms that accompany GERD:

  • A burning sensation in your chest (heartburn), usually after eating, which might be worse at night
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Regurgitation of food or sour liquid
  • A sensation of a lump in your throat

These symptoms are also something you can experience at night:

  • Chronic cough
  • Laryngitis
  • New or worsening asthma
  • Disrupted sleep

A burning, pressure, or pain of heartburn can last as long as 2 hours when GERD is active. It's often worse after eating, and lying down or bending over can also result in heartburn. Many people feel better standing upright or taking  an antacid, to offer relief to  the esophagus. Using this over-the-counter medicine is a quick solution if you have mild symptoms.

People sometimes mistake heartburn pain for the pain of heart disease or a heart attack, so one needs to exercise caution and have proper evaluation. Exercise may make heart disease pain worse, and rest may relieve it, and Heartburn pain is less likely to go along with the physical activity. But you can't tell the difference, so seek medical help immediately if you have chest pain.

What Causes Acid Reflux?

GERD happens when you have frequent stomach acid reflux. When you swallow, a circular band of muscle around the bottom of your esophagus (lower esophageal sphincter) relaxes to allow food and liquid to flow into your stomach. Then the sphincter closes again.

If the sphincter relaxes abnormally or weakens, stomach acid can flow back into your esophagus. This constant backwash of acid irritates the lining of your esophagus, often causing it to become inflamed.

Certain foods can also cause this to activate the reflux happen. That is why a lot of people have to change their diet and stay away from spicy foods. Other things that can aggravate acid reflux are:

  • Smoking
  • Eating large meals or eating late at night
  • Eating certain foods (triggers) such as fatty or fried foods
  • Drinking certain beverages, such as alcohol or coffee
  • Taking certain medications, such as aspirin

Risk Factors involving Stomach Acid symptoms.

The main things you have to look out for when dealing with GERD are:

  • Obesity
  • Bulging of the top of the stomach up into the diaphragm (hiatal hernia)
  • Pregnancy
  • Connective tissue disorders, such as scleroderma
  • Delayed stomach emptying

These are all things that can increase your risk when experiencing symptoms of GERD.

Things to Watch Out For.

Certain complications can occur if you have been experiencing GERD for a long time. Some of those complications to look out for are:

  • Narrowing of the esophagus, also known as an esophageal stricture. This can cause damage to the lower esophagus due to stomach acid and cause scar tissue to form. The scar tissue can narrow the food's pathway, leading to swallowing problems.
  • An open sore in the esophagus is also known as an esophageal ulcer. Stomach acid can wear away tissue in the esophagus, causing an open sore to form. Symptoms of an esophageal ulcer can be bleeding, pain and difficulty swallowing.
  • Precancerous changes to the esophagus, also known as Barrett's esophagus. This is known as damage from acid and can cause changes in the tissue lining the lower esophagus. These changes are associated with an increased risk of esophageal cancer.

Diet and Lifestyle Changes.

There are several changes that doctors suggest you make in your lifestyle to help lessen your symptoms of GERD. A lot of those lifestyles include changing your diet and exercising.

  • Avoid foods and beverages triggers: It's important to avoid foods that can relax your esophagus, including chocolate, peppermint, fatty foods, caffeine, and alcoholic beverages. You should also avoid foods and beverages that can irritate a damaged esophageal lining if they cause symptoms, such as citrus fruits and juices, tomato products, and pepper.
  • Eat smaller servings: Eating smaller portions at mealtime may also help control symptoms. Also, eating meals at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime lets the acid in your stomach go down and your stomach partially empty.
  • Eat slowly: While eating smaller meals, it is also important to take your time eating at every meal.  
  • Chew your food thoroughly: It may help you remember to do this if you set your fork down after taking a bite. Pick it up only when you've completely chewed and swallowed that bite. Aim to chew at least 30 times per bite.
  • Stop smoking: Cigarette smoking weakens the esophagus. If you smoke, stopping is important and will likely reduce GERD symptoms.
  • Elevate your head: Raising the head of your bed on 6-inch blocks or sleeping on a specially designed wedge lets gravity lessen the reflux of stomach contents into your esophagus. Don't use pillows to prop yourself up, which only puts more pressure on the stomach.
  • Stay at a healthy weight: It is important to keep exercising and maintain a healthy weight. This will provide relief from your symptoms and could help your quality of life in the long run.
  • Wear loose clothes: This may sound like a weird suggestion, but wearing loose clothes will take pressure off your stomach and lower esophagus. This, in turn, will help you keep your symptoms under control.

Please note any treatment approaches mentioned are not intended and should not be considered, or used as a substitute for, medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and have not been evaluated by the FDA.

Key Takeaways From GERD.

In the end, if you are experiencing symptoms of GERD, you can try mild treatments to help you with stomach acid. If you are experiencing more severe symptoms, you may want to visit your doctor and have a more detailed evaluation (i.e. endoscopy) get on a more routine medication. But you know now what gastroesophageal reflux disease is and what to expect when you feel the symptoms. Keep track of your symptoms and ensure they don't progress into anything else.

Should I See a Doctor?

Seek immediate emergency department based medical care if you have chest pain, especially if you also have dizziness, palpitations, shortness of breath or jaw or arm pain. These may be signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you:

  • Experience severe or frequent GERD symptoms
  • Take over-the-counter medications for heartburn more than twice a week

Contact Index Health.

Index Health sees each patient as a whole person who deserves a support system and a treatment plan that now addresses the root problem and prevents further issues.

Functional medicine gets to the root cause of your condition using advanced lab tests, data, and specialist physicians, rather than just treating the symptom. Personalized functional medicine plans are 100% unique and tailored to your body and needs! Plans primarily include nutrition, targeted supplements, and lifestyle changes. Get ongoing support from your dedicated functional medicine physician and nutritionist team, with proper testing, staff and Advanced Primary Care, retesting, follow-up appointments, treatment therapy, and more.