What Causes a Sour Taste in the Mouth?

Potential causes include heartburn or GERD

chronic condition

When the contents of your stomach reflux back up into the esophagus and reach the back of your throat, you may notice a sour taste in your mouth. This can potentially be due to a chronic condition that is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), where the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) opens inappropriately and allows stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus.

How Heartburn Happens

Normally, the LES works like a one-way valve, opening to allow food to pass into the stomach and then closing to keep food and digestive juices from flowing back into the esophagus. But if the LES relaxes when it shouldn't or if it becomes weak, stomach acid can flow backward into the esophagus, causing the burning sensation we know as heartburn and sometimes a sour taste in your mouth. If you have heartburn more than twice a week for more than a few weeks, it could be GERD and you should consult your doctor.

Heartburn Triggers

Heartburn, also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), can occur for a number of reasons. Behaviors that can trigger heartburn include:

Other Symptoms of GERD

In addition to a sour taste in your mouth, you might experience these other symptoms of GERD:

  • Chest pain. This pain usually starts behind the breastbone (the sternum) and may travel up to the throat. It usually occurs shortly after eating and can last from a few minutes to several hours. It's important to remember that sometimes the pain of a heart attack can be confused with the burning pain of GERD, and it is always important to seek medical attention if there is any doubt as to what's causing chest pain.
  • Hoarseness in the morning. If you experience stomach acid refluxing into your throat, your throat can get irritated, leading to hoarseness.
  • Difficulty swallowing. Trouble with swallowing (dysphagia) occurs when food does not pass normally from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach. There may be a sensation of food sticking in the throat or a feeling of choking. Difficulty swallowing should always be evaluated by a physician.
  • Persistent dry cough. In some studies, GERD accounted for about 41 percent of cases of a chronic cough in nonsmoking patients. If refluxed stomach acid is breathed in, it can cause coughing.
  • Bad breath. When acid from the stomach comes up into the throat and mouth, not only can this cause a sour taste, but acrid-smelling breath can result.

What to Do About Heartburn

If you suffer from chronic heartburn, you should speak with your doctor to discuss a treatment plan that works for you. Doctors usually suggest lifestyle modifications first. You can also reduce your chances of heartburn occurring by avoiding foods that can trigger heartburn and learning how to sleep to prevent nighttime heartburn.

If these steps don't work to control your heartburn, your doctor will discuss other treatment options, such as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), and perhaps do some diagnostic tests, such as an upper endoscopy.

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