What’s acid reflux and GERD?
Acid reflux happens when contents from your stomach move up into your esophagus. It’s also called acid regurgitation or gastroesophageal reflux.
If you have symptoms of acid reflux more than twice a week, you might have a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
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Acid reflux can cause an uncomfortable burning feeling in your chest, which can radiate up toward your neck. This feeling is often known as heartburn.
If you have acid reflux, you might develop a sour or bitter taste at the back of your mouth. It might also cause you to regurgitate food or liquid from your stomach into your mouth.
The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a circular band of muscle at the end of your esophagus. When it’s working properly, it relaxes and opens when you swallow. Then it tightens and closes again afterwards.
Acid reflux happens when your LES doesn’t tighten or close properly. This allows digestive juices and other contents from your stomach to rise up into your esophagus.
To prevent and relieve symptoms of GERD, your doctor might encourage you to make changes to your eating habits or other behaviors.
They might also suggest taking over-the-counter medications, like:
In some cases, they might prescribe stronger H2 receptor blockers or PPIs. If GERD is severe and not responding to other treatments, surgery might be recommended.
Some over-the-counter and prescription medications can cause side effects. Find out more about the medications that are available to treat GERD.
In most cases, lifestyle changes and medications are enough to prevent and relieve symptoms of GERD. But sometimes, surgery is needed.
For example, your doctor might recommend surgery if lifestyle changes and medications alone haven’t stopped your symptoms. They might also suggest surgery if you’ve developed complications of GERD.
There are multiple types of surgery available to treat GERD. Click here to read about the procedures that your doctor might recommend.
If your doctor suspects you might have GERD, they’ll conduct a physical exam and ask about any symptoms you’ve been experiencing.
They might use one or more of the following procedures to confirm a diagnosis or check for complications of GERD:
- barium swallow: after drinking a barium solution, X-ray imaging is used to examine your upper digestive tract
- upper endoscopy: a flexible tube with a tiny camera is threaded into your esophagus to examine it and collect a sample of tissue (biopsy) if needed
- esophageal manometry: a flexible tube is threaded into your esophagus to measure the strength of your esophageal muscles
- esophageal pH monitoring: a monitor is inserted into your esophagus to learn if and when stomach acid enters it
It’s normal for babies to spit up food and vomit sometimes. But if your baby is spitting up food or vomiting frequently, they might have GERD.
Other potential signs and symptoms of GERD in infants includes:
- refusal to eat
- trouble swallowing
- gagging or choking
- wet burps or hiccups
- irritability during or after feeding
- arching of their back during or after feeding
- weight loss or poor growth
- recurring cough or pneumonia
- difficulty sleeping
Many of these symptoms are also found in babies with tongue-tie, a condition that can make it hard for them to eat.
If you suspect your baby might have GERD or another health condition, make an appointment with their doctor. Learn how to recognize GERD in infants.
Certain conditions can increase your chances of developing GERD, including:
Some lifestyle behaviors can also raise your risk of GERD, including:
- eating large meals
- lying down or going to sleep shortly after eating
- eating certain types of foods, such as deep fried or spicy foods
- drinking certain types of beverages, such as soda, coffee, or alcohol
- using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as aspirin or ibuprofen
If you have any of these risk factors, taking steps to modify them may help you prevent or manage GERD. Find out more about what can raise your chances of experiencing it.
In most people, GERD doesn’t cause serious complications. But in rare cases, it can lead to serious or even life-threatening health problems.
Potential complications of GERD include:
- esophagitis, an inflammation of your esophagus
- esophageal stricture, which happens when your esophagus narrows or tightens
- Barrett’s esophagus, involving permanent changes to the lining of your esophagus
- esophageal cancer, which affects a small portion of people with Barrett’s esophagus
- asthma, chronic cough, or other breathing problems, which may develop if you breath stomach acid into your lungs
- tooth enamel erosion, gum disease, or other dental problems
To lower your chances of complications, it’s important to take steps to prevent and treat the symptoms of GERD.
In some people, certain types of foods and beverages trigger symptoms of GERD. Common dietary triggers include:
- high-fat foods
- spicy foods
- citrus fruit
Dietary triggers can vary from one person to another. Find out more about common food triggers and how to avoid making your symptoms worse.
There are several lifestyle changes and home remedies that may help relieve GERD symptoms.
For example, it might help to:
- quit smoking
- lose excess weight
- eat smaller meals
- chew gum after eating
- avoid lying down after eating
- avoid foods and drinks that trigger your symptoms
- avoid wearing tight clothing
- practice relaxation techniques
Some herbal remedies might also provide relief.
Herbs commonly used for GERD include:
- licorice root
- marshmallow root
- slippery elm
Although more research is needed, some people report experiencing relief from acid reflux after taking supplements, tinctures, or teas that contain these herbs.
But in some cases, herbal remedies can cause side effects or interfere with certain medications. Check out the potential benefits and risks of using herbal remedies to treat GERD.
If you suspect that anxiety is making your symptoms worse, consider talking to your doctor about strategies to relieve it.
Some things you can do to reduce anxiety include:
- limit your exposure to experiences, people, and places that make you feel anxious
- practice relaxation techniques, like meditation or deep breathing exercises
- adjust your sleep habits, exercise routine, or other lifestyle behaviors
If your doctor suspects you have an anxiety disorder, they might refer you to a mental health specialist for diagnosis and treatment. Treatment for an anxiety disorder might include medication, talk therapy, or a combination of both.
Pregnancy can increase your chances of experiencing acid reflux. If you had GERD before getting pregnant, your symptoms might get worse.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause the muscles in your esophagus to relax more frequently. A growing fetus can also place pressure on your stomach. This can increase the risk of stomach acid entering your esophagus.
Many medications that are used to treat acid reflux are safe to take during pregnancy. But in some cases, your doctor might advise you to avoid certain antacids or other treatments. Learn more about the strategies you can use to manage acid reflux in pregnancy.
It’s been reported that more than 75 percent of people with asthma also experience GERD.
More research is needed to understand the exact relationship between asthma and GERD. It’s possible that GERD might make symptoms of asthma worse. But asthma and some asthma medications might raise your risk of experiencing GERD.
If you have asthma and GERD, it’s important to manage both conditions. Read more about the links between these conditions and how you can effectively manage them.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that can affect your large intestine. Common symptoms include:
- abdominal pain
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If you have symptoms of both IBS and GERD, make an appointment with your doctor. They might recommend changes to your diet, medications, or other treatments. Learn more about the link between these conditions and how you can find relief.
In some people with GERD, certain foods and drinks can make the symptoms worse. Those dietary triggers might include alcoholic beverages.
Depending on your specific triggers, you might be able to drink alcohol in moderation. But for some people, even small amounts of alcohol trigger symptoms of GERD.
If you combine alcohol with fruit juices or other mixers, those mixers might also trigger symptoms. Discover how alcohol and mixers can trigger GERD symptoms.
Heartburn is a common symptom of acid reflux. Most people experience it from time to time, and in general, occasional heartburn isn’t a cause for concern.
But if you get heartburn more than twice a week, you might have GERD.
GERD is a chronic type of acid reflux that can cause complications if left untreated. Find out the differences and links between heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD.