Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common disorder where stomach acid frequently refluxes (spills up) into your esophagus.

It affects about 20 percent of U.S. adults, and can also affect teens, children, and infants.

A muscular valve between your esophagus and stomach typically remains shut, only opening to allow swallowed food to pass. If the valve cannot properly close, your stomach acids can enter your esophagus. Common symptoms include heartburn and regurgitation.

Several factors can contribute to having GERD, such as:

There are many ways to treat GERD, including lifestyle adjustments, medication, and surgery. But once you start treatment, how do you know if your GERD is getting better? Let’s take a closer look.

Whether you’ve been recently diagnosed with GERD or you’ve been living with it for a while, you’d probably like to know if your treatment is working.

This can sometimes be difficult to tell. To make GERD go away, it’s important to treat the causes rather than just the symptoms.

The American Academy of Family Physicians laid out a framework for treatment of the condition in 1999 that’s still helpful to reference today. The review breaks treatment into five stages that become progressively more invasive as GERD advances.

  • Stage 1: lifestyle modifications
  • Stage 2: medication taken as needed
  • Stage 3: regular medication at a high dose
  • Stage 4: persisting regular medication at the minimum effective dose
  • Stage 5: surgery

This is helpful because it’s a quick way to determine whether your GERD is improving. As you work with your doctor to adjust your treatment plan, you’ll know your GERD is getting better if you’re moving back down in the stages.

You also may be able to feel your GERD getting better. If you notice that your symptoms are becoming less severe, less frequent, or disappearing entirely, you might be ready to move down one stage in your treatment.

Of course, this is a general framework, and your doctor can give you an evaluation specific to your unique circumstances.

There are three main categories of treatment for GERD, which are progressively more invasive.

First are lifestyle changes, such as:

Then there are medications, available both over the counter and via prescription, that you might try, such as:

Finally, if lifestyle changes and medications aren’t effectively treating your GERD, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgeries for GERD could include:

Once you’ve started treatment for GERD, you’ll probably want to know how long it will be before you can expect to start seeing results. This will depend on what type of treatment you’re pursuing and how severe your symptoms are.

Some treatments may provide immediate relief. Sleeping with your head elevated, for example, might immediately impact your nighttime symptoms of GERD. Avoiding eating for 3 hours before bedtime may also provide quick relief.

Medications vary. Antacids and H2 inhibitors usually begin to have a noticeable effect within a couple of hours, while proton pump inhibitors may take a couple of days. While medication can provide relief, it’s important to avoid overuse.

Other lifestyle changes, such as quitting smoking or losing weight, may take longer to accomplish, and the effects will be incremental as you get closer to achieving your goals. Quitting smoking can be difficult, but a doctor can build a cessation plan that works for you.

Surgeries often provide long lasting relief, but because they’re more invasive interventions, you should expect weeks to months of recovery time.

If you have GERD and it’s getting worse, you’ll likely be the first one to notice.

As GERD progresses, you may notice your symptoms, such as heartburn and regurgitation, happening more frequently. They might progress from once or twice per week to every day.

You may also start to notice new symptoms that you didn’t have before, such as:

Let your doctor know if you’re experiencing new symptoms or if your symptoms are becoming more frequent. They may change your treatment plan. Leaving GERD untreated can lead to serious complications such as esophagitis and Barrett’s esophagus.

By addressing the causes of your GERD, it is possible to cure it. However, addressing the causes might mean permanent lifestyle changes.

Medications, such as proton pump inhibitors, alleviate your symptoms and give the lining of your esophagus time to heal. After you’re healed, you might be able to taper off the medication without having your symptoms return.

While you’re treating GERD, your symptoms may become less frequent and severe. If your symptoms go away entirely and you’re able to stop treatment, your GERD is cured. Of course, it’s possible to get GERD again, so it’s important to remain aware of the causes of GERD.

GERD is a common disorder that’s usually associated with heartburn. There are a number of treatment options. Sometimes it’s an easy fix, and other times it can be severe enough to necessitate surgery.

Treatment tends to start with the least invasive methods and works up toward increasingly aggressive interventions. In this way, treatments can be broken into stages. And as your treatments become less intense, you can be confident your GERD is getting better.