Conditions like obesity, hiatal hernia, and asthma often co-occur with GERD and may contribute to its development. GERD can itself lead to complications like esophagitis or Barrett’s esophagus.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition that develops from stomach acids chronically traveling into your esophagus. This can cause frequent acid regurgitation and heartburn. Experts estimate that about 20% of adults have GERD, making this a common condition.

While certain lifestyle-related risk factors can contribute to GERD, some underlying health conditions can also increase your chances of developing GERD. It may also develop independently alongside other conditions.

Some conditions may cause symptoms similar to GERD, underlying the importance of receiving an accurate diagnosis from a medical professional.

If you’re concerned about possible symptoms of GERD, here’s what you need to know about some of the most common conditions related to this common digestive disease.

Some common symptoms of GERD include:

GERD can be difficult to identify since not everyone gets the same symptoms. For example, some people might have a chronic cough but not experience heartburn.

Some symptoms may be linked to other health conditions. For example, asthma may cause chronic cough, while anxiety may cause issues with nausea and chest discomfort.

Heartburn may sometimes be mistaken for a heart attack since both can cause chest pain and nausea. However, unlike GERD, a heart attack may cause a squeezing pain in your chest and shortness of breath. When in doubt, call 911 or your local emergency services.

GERD vs. LPR

Laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) is another form of acid reflux, but instead of affecting your esophagus, it affects your larynx (voice box) and pharynx (throat). LPR is also known as “silent reflux” because it often doesn’t cause heartburn but can still lead to complications.

Learn more about the differences between LPR and GERD.

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Acidic foods and beverages, as well as smoking, can cause problems with heartburn and acid reflux. The following conditions may also increase your risk of developing GERD.

Overweight and obesity

While not everyone with overweight or obesity develops GERD, these are common risk factors. Excess body weight may put more pressure on your stomach, causing an increase in acid regurgitating up through the esophagus.

According to a 2021 review, weight loss was also found to help GERD. If you’re considering losing weight to help with symptoms of GERD, talk with a doctor about a plan.

Pregnancy

You might also experience heartburn and possible GERD development during pregnancy. This may be due to an increase in hormones such as estrogen and progesterone. An expanding uterus can also put more pressure on your stomach, aggravating GERD.

Eating smaller meals and avoiding food within a few hours before lying down can help.

Hiatal hernia

A hiatal hernia develops when the upper part of your stomach moves into your chest due to an opening in your diaphragm. This condition can cause GERD but also make it worse.

Asthma

Experts don’t know if asthma can cause GERD, but the two conditions can aggravate each other. Asthma and GERD occur together and may even develop together. Experts estimate that 30–80% of people with asthma also have GERD.

GERD may aggravate your airways from stomach acids entering your lungs through the esophagus. This causes your airways to tighten, triggering asthma symptoms.

If you already have asthma, GERD may trigger related respiratory symptoms.

If you think you have both asthma and GERD, it’s important to talk with a doctor about a treatment plan that can address both of these chronic conditions.

Medications and GERD

Some types of medications may also increase the risk of GERD, including:

If you have a condition that requires taking any of these medications, your risk of GERD may be higher. Talk with a doctor about ways you can manage them along with GERD. Do not stop taking any prescribed medications without a doctor’s recommendation.

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When left untreated, GERD may damage the esophagus. This can increase your risk of the following GERD complications.

Barrett’s esophagus

Barrett’s esophagus develops when a small tissue similar to your intestinal lining replaces your esophageal lining. Barrett’s esophagus is a risk factor for esophageal adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer.

Esophagitis

With GERD, your esophagus may become inflamed. This is also known as esophagitis. Over time, esophagitis can cause Barrett’s esophagus, ulcers, and esophageal bleeding.

Esophageal stricture

Esophageal stricture is another complication of esophagitis. With esophageal stricture, your esophagus narrows, making it harder to swallow food.

Non-esophageal related complications

GERD may also affect areas outside of your esophagus. Among the related complications may include:

If you’re experiencing possible signs of GERD, consider seeing a doctor. They can help you determine whether your symptoms are related to GERD or another underlying cause.

Depending on your age, a doctor may recommend acid-reducing medications and lifestyle changes before conducting tests for GERD. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are the most common medications for GERD.

If you’re over 55, a doctor may check for symptoms of dyspepsia, which often has overlapping symptoms with GERD and might need testing before starting medications.

However, a doctor may recommend certain medical tests if GERD doesn’t respond to medications or if you have alarming symptoms.

Possible tests include esophageal pH monitoring and an endoscopy.

You should also see a doctor right away if you’re experiencing the following symptoms, as they may suggest a more serious medical condition:

  • appetite loss
  • unintentional weight loss
  • chronic vomiting
  • chest pain
  • trouble with swallowing
  • blood in your vomit or stools

GERD is a common and treatable chronic digestive condition. Knowing the common causes of GERD can help you be more aware of the risk factors. It’s also important to be aware of the symptoms and complications you can discuss with a doctor.

If you’re concerned about the possibility of having GERD, talk with a doctor. They can help diagnose GERD based on your health history and current symptoms, as well as offer treatment strategies.