Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease (GERD)

Many people have a little heartburn now and then, but if it happens often and is paired with regurgitation, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

GERD is a chronic disorder of the digestive system caused by the lower esophageal sphincter not closing properly. This can allow stomach acid into your esophagus, causing inflammation and, in some cases, tooth erosion.

Heartburn and acid regurgitation are the main symptoms of GERD, though some people have GERD without heartburn. When symptoms are chronic, GERD can interfere with sleep and other daily functions, as well as progress to more serious conditions.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How is GERD treated?

    GERD is treated with lifestyle changes, such as reducing alcohol intake, quitting smoking, and avoiding trigger foods. Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter or prescription antacids, or prescription medications such as H2 blockers and proton-pump inhibitors to suppress gastric acids. If these recommendations are diligently followed and fail, surgery may be an option.

  • What causes GERD?

    GERD is caused by the reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus, which occurs when your lower esophageal sphincter is either weak or it relaxes when it shouldn't. Other potential causes can include obesity, smoking, diet, alcohol intake, and pregnancy. GERD can also be due to various conditions, including abnormal biologic or structural factors.

  • Is GERD curable?

    Though GERD is commonly a chronic condition that must be managed, conservative treatment is typically sufficient to do so. GERD surgery is a one-time procedure, but is generally recommended only in the presence of severe symptoms that do not respond to other treatment.

  • How long does GERD last?

    Acute attacks of GERD and the heartburn associated with it can last several hours to overnight. Pain in the abdomen associated with GERD usually occurs shortly after eating and can last from a few minutes to several hours.

  • What does GERD feel like?

    In the acid reflux characteristic of GERD, you might feel a burning sensation in your chest or abdomen and may taste stomach acid in the back of your throat. Other symptoms include chest or abdominal pain that travels up to your throat and radiates to your back. You may also experience hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, a dry cough, nausea, bad breath, or difficulty sleeping or lying down.

Key Terms

A Closer Look at GERD in the Body

Explore an interactive model below that illustrates the consequences of the lower esophageal sphincter not closing properly in GERD, and how, as a result, stomach acid can causes inflammation in the esophagus as well as tooth erosion.