Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
 

GERD/Heartburn

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/Heartburn

What is GERD?

Illustration demonstrating  gastroesophageal reflux
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Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that is caused by gastric acid flowing from the stomach into the esophagus.

Gastroesophageal refers to the stomach and esophagus, and reflux means to flow back or return. Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) is the return of acidic stomach juices, or food and fluids, back up into the esophagus.

What are the symptoms of GERD?

The following is the most common symptom of GERD. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently.

Heartburn may mimic other, more serious conditions

Heartburn pain can be mistaken for the pain associated with heart disease or a heart attack. Seek immediate medical care if you suffer sudden, severe chest pain or pain is accompanied by sweating, light-headedness, and nausea.

Severe heartburn may be due to a serious medical condition, such as a ruptured abdominal organ or heart attack. See a doctor when heartburn persists and an over-the-counter antacid or acid-reducer does not relieve the burning feeling within a short amount of time (from a few seconds to five minutes).

Heartburn, also called acid indigestion, is the most common symptom of GERD. Heartburn is described as a burning chest pain that begins behind the breastbone and moves upward to the neck and throat. It can last as long as two hours and is often worse after eating. Lying down or bending over can also result in heartburn.

Most children younger than 12 years of age, and some adults, diagnosed with GERD will experience a dry cough, asthma symptoms, or trouble swallowing, instead of heartburn. Heartburn pain is less likely to be associated with physical activity.

The symptoms of GERD may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

What causes GERD?

GERD typically occurs when acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle located at the bottom of the esophagus, opens to let food in and closes to keep it in the stomach. When this muscle relaxes too often or for too long, acid refluxes back into the esophagus, causing heartburn.

Other lifestyle contributors to GERD may include the following:

Other conditions associated with heartburn may include the following:

How is GERD diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for GERD may include the following:

Illustration of an esophagogastroduodenoscopy procedure
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Treatment for GERD

Specific treatment for GERD will be determined by your doctor based on:

In many cases, GERD can be relieved through diet and lifestyle changes, as directed by your doctor. Some ways to manage heartburn include the following:

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Online Resources of Digestive Disorders

 

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