Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) Facts

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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. One of its most common symptoms is heartburn.

The term "gastroesophageal" refers to the connection between the stomach and esophagus, and "reflux" means to flow back or return. The symptoms of GERD may resemble other medical conditions or problems so it's important to consult a doctor if you have any of them.

In GERD, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is affected. The LES, a band of 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, stomach acid splashes (refluxes) back into the esophagus, causing heartburn.

Lifestyle contributors to GERD may include being overweight, overeating, and smoking. Consuming caffeine, alcohol, and certain foods, such as citrus, chocolate, and fatty or spicy foods, can also cause GERD. Medical causes of heartburn may include use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen; gastritis (an inflammation of the stomach lining); and ulcer disease.

In addition to a medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for GERD may include an upper GI (gastrointestinal) series (also called barium swallow); an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (also called EGD or upper endoscopy); or an EGD (upper endoscopy).

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:

  • Monitor the medications you are taking--some may irritate the lining of the stomach or esophagus.

  • Quit smoking.

  • Watch food intake and limit fried and fatty foods, peppermint, chocolate, alcohol, coffee, citrus fruit and juices, and tomato products.

  • Eat smaller portions.

  • Avoid overeating.

  • Watch consumption of alcohol.

  • Do not lie down or go to bed right after a meal. Instead, wait a couple of hours.

  • Lose weight, if necessary.

  • Elevate the head of the bed six inches.

  • Take an antacid, as directed by your doctor.

In addition, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medicines called H 2-blockers and protein pump inhibitors. Formerly available only by prescription, these drugs can be taken before eating to prevent heartburn from occurring. Why experiment? Work with your doctor to determine which GERD medication will work best for you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Apr 16
Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER) and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) in Adults.
National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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