GERD Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or chronic acid reflux is a common condition affecting around 20% of the U.S. population. Acid reflux is when you have stomach acid flow into your esophagus or throat. 

This causes a feeling of heartburn as well as other symptoms, including trouble swallowing and difficulty sleeping due to the discomfort. 

Acid reflux every now and then, especially after a particularly large meal, is normal. Chronic GERD is acid reflux that occurs twice a week or more for several weeks. If you find yourself taking antacids frequently after eating, you may have GERD.

This article will detail what you need to know about GERD, including who gets it, the risks of having it, and how prevention and screening for GERD works. You’ll learn complications of GERD and when to see a healthcare provider.

GERD symptoms

Witthaya Prasongsin / Getty Images

GERD Overview

GERD, or chronic acid reflux, is when stomach acid travels up the connecting tube between your mouth and stomach (the esophagus). This movement of acid can cause pain, discomfort, and a burning sensation. You may experience bloating, hiccups, difficulty swallowing, or a feeling that you have a lump in your throat. 

GERD can cause regurgitation of food from your stomach back to your mouth. Acid in the esophagus and mouth can cause bad breath, dry cough, sore throat, and voice hoarseness.

How Common Is GERD?

GERD is a common digestive disorder, affecting 20% of all U.S. adults. It is more common in people over the age of 40. 

However, you don’t need to be an adult to have chronic acid reflux. Babies and children can experience GERD, too. About 25% of children have symptoms of GERD.

GERD by Ethnicity

Although GERD can affect anyone from any ethnic background, in one study GERD was more common in people of certain ethnic backgrounds.

Hispanic people in the study, for example, had the highest rates of esophagitis, which is severe inflammation of esophagus, while non-Hispanic White participants had a greater incidence of Barrett's esophagus. More research is necessary to understand the differences in how GERD affects people of different ethnicities.

What Is Barrett's Esophagus?

Barrett’s esophagus is a serious condition in which the cells in the esophagus lining change and can lead to esophageal cancer. It develops in some 10% of people with GERD.

GERD by Age

GERD is most common in people over age 40.

The lowest prevalence of GERD was found in the 70 to 79 age group. More research is necessary to determine how age affects GERD.

Causes and Risk Factors of GERD

There are several reasons why someone may develop GERD. In general, GERD happens when your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) or upper esophageal sphincter (UES) becomes weakened or too relaxed. Sphincters are the ring-shaped muscles responsible for the opening and closing contractions necessary for proper digestive functioning. When weakened or overly relaxed, it allows stomach acid to flow back either into the esophagus (LES) and into the mouth (UES).

Esophageal sphincter weakening or excessive relaxing can be caused by a hiatal hernia (when your stomach pushes through the diaphragm muscle). 

Risk Factors for GERD

There are non-modifiable (unchangeable) and modifiable (changeable) risk factors that may increase your risk of GERD or trigger GERD symptoms. These include:

  • Certain health conditions, including asthma or hiatal hernia
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Taking certain medications, such as asthma drugs, antidepressants, antihistamines, painkillers, and sedatives
  • Lifestyle factors, including eating certain foods (tomato-based products, citrus, alcohol) or smoking (including secondhand smoking)

What Are Mortality Rates for GERD? 

Research on mortality (death) rates for GERD shows an association between GERD and other life-quality-compromising health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, mood disorders, and sleep disorders. But GERD itself is not necessarily linked to higher risk of all-cause mortality. 

According to one large-scale Swedish study using data from 1998 to 2015 on over 40,000 individual twins with GERD, the condition did not increase all-cause or cancer-specific mortality.

Screening and Early Detection

Screening and early detection for GERD from your healthcare provider are important so you can access the right treatment, prevent further damage to the esophagus, and monitor for complications. Treatment may include lifestyle changes, prescription medications, and in some cases, surgery.

Long-term complications of GERD include Barrett’s esophagus. Other complications include:

  • Esophagitis: Chronic exposure to acid causes physical trauma to the esophageal wall (which can lead to internal bleeding).
  • Esophageal cancer: A rare complication, most people with Barrett’s esophagus (more than 90%) won’t develop esophageal cancer.
  • Peptic strictures: Narrowing of the esophagus due to peptic or stomach acid-induced scarring (which can cause difficulties swallowing).

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you have trouble swallowing, unintentional weight loss, evidence of blood in stools, or if over-the-counter (OTC) medications aren't controlling your symptoms, schedule a visit with your healthcare provider.


Chronic acid reflux is a common digestive problem with many known causes. Some causes and risk factors include obesity, pregnancy, smoking (including secondhand), and medication use with acid reflux as a side effect.

Screening and early detection are necessary to prevent further health complications (especially because prolonged use of antacids is not a solution). Untreated GERD leads to serious health complications, including damage to the esophagus lining, and is associated with a type of precancerous condition known as Barrett’s esophagus.

If you are experiencing repeated acid reflux, talk to a healthcare provider. They can help direct you to the right treatment plan to help you manage your symptoms and find relief.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Symptoms & causes of GER & GERD

  2. Cleveland Clinic. GERD chronic acid reflux

  3. Medline Plus. Reflux in Children

  4. Wang A, Mattek NC, Holub JL, Lieberman D, Eisen GM. Prevalence of complicated gastroesophageal reflux disease and Barrett's esophagus among racial groups in a multi-center consortium. Digestive diseases and sciences. 2009;54(5):964–971. doi: 10.1007/s10620-009-0742-3

  5. American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy. GERD, Barrett's esophagus and the risk for esophageal cancer.

  6. UpToDate. Gastroesophageal reflux disease in adults (Beyond the Basics).

  7. Ness-Jensen E, Santoni G, Gottlieb-Vedi E, Lindam A, Pedersen N, Lagergren J. Mortality in gastro-oesophageal reflux disease in a population-based nationwide cohort study of Swedish twins. BMJ Open. 2020;10(8):e037456.

By Michelle Pugle
Michelle Pugle, BA, MA, is an expert health writer with nearly a decade of contributing accurate and accessible health news and information to authority websites and print magazines. Her work focuses on lifestyle management, chronic illness, and mental health. Michelle is the author of Ana, Mia & Me: A Memoir From an Anorexic Teen Mind.