GERD is more than heartburn: Key questions answered


by Baylor Scott & White Health

Nov 25, 2022

GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. Typical symptoms are frequent heartburn, which is by far the most common complaint. Other symptoms include nausea, feeling of food or liquid coming up into one’s mouth, difficult or painful swallowing, pain in the mid-chest or upper abdomen, nausea, cough or wheezing.

GERD is caused by the backflow of contents from the stomach back into the esophagus, the muscular tube of swallowing that connects the mouth to the stomach. Stomach acid moving back into the esophagus causes burning and symptoms. Learn more about the causes and symptoms.

When does traditional heartburn become GERD?

Heartburn is common, although occasional, and most people don’t have symptoms repetitively. For patients with GERD, symptoms occur more than twice per week.

What are the most effective treatments?

Most patients respond to conservative therapies, which include dietary modifications aimed at reducing overeating and losing weight. Additionally, avoidance of foods that contribute to heartburn is extremely helpful. These include chocolate, coffee, greasy or spicy foods and alcohol. Quitting smoking helps reduce heartburn as well.

What about medication or surgery for GERD?

If symptoms do not improve with lifestyle modifications alone, antacids (both over the counter or prescriptions) are very effective. Antacids include H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors, both of which can be bought over the counter.

Symptoms of GERD that are not relieved by lifestyle changes/dietary modifications and medications may mean you are a candidate for surgery.

Symptoms of persistent pain, difficulty swallowing, weight loss with no improvement in symptoms with medications are warning signs that something more serious than GERD might be going on. A doctor’s visit is appropriate under these circumstances.

Is it possible to avoid GERD?

Strategies to avoid GERD include eating in moderation. This includes portion size as well as food choices — smaller meals and attention to avoiding foods most implicated in heartburn are common sense ways of minimizing GERD. Exercise and weight loss are good choices for an overall healthy lifestyle, regardless of whether you have GERD or not. If you have questions about what lifestyle changes to make for your health, talk to your doctor.

Concerned about your GERD symptoms? Consult an expert today.

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