Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also called GERD, is a medical condition of the esophagus. GERD occurs when the food or liquid in your stomach goes back up your esophagus causing pain, discomfort, heartburn or other burning sensations. The main symptoms for GERD are frequent heartburn, though other symptoms exist. Any time the contents of your stomach goes back up your esophagus, it can be referred to as GERD.

Causes of GERD

After eating or drinking, the food and liquid passes from your throat through the esophagus, which is the tube for swallowing, into your stomach. There the muscle fibers in your stomach should prevent food and liquids from moving back up. However, people with GERD have weak muscle fibers that don’t close all the way where the food and liquid along with stomach acid can move back up the esophagus, causing a burning sensation and heartburn. Some risk factors raise the risk of GERD including people who smoke or drink, have a hiatal hernia, are obese, pregnant, or have scleroderma. GERD can be worsened by pregnancy or certain medications.

Symptoms of GERD

A number of different symptoms are experienced by people with GERD, including different levels of pain and discomfort. The most common symptoms are heartburn or a burning sensation in the chest under the breastbone, the feeling that food is stuck behind the breastbone (where the esophagus is located), heartburn that is worse at night, while lying down, bending, or eating, and that is relieved by antacids, and nausea after eating. There are also some less common symptoms of GERD including a sore throat, difficulty swallowing, coughing, wheezing, regurgitation, hiccups, hoarseness or change in the voice.

Diagnosing GERD

In most cases, a physical examination and recounting of your symptoms is all a doctor needs to diagnose you with GERD. Occasionally if the symptoms are severe, tests will be performed such as an esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD), barium swallow, continuous esophageal pH monitoring, or esophageal manometry. A stool occult blood test might also be performed.

Treating GERD

The main treatment options for GERD include avoiding foods that seem to trigger the condition, taking antacids and avoiding medications that increase the symptoms of GERD such as ibuprofen or aspirin. Drink plenty of water and take acetaminophen for the pain and discomfort. While complications are rare, they include dental problems, esophageal ulcers, bronchospasms, asthma, Barrett’s esophagus, chronic cough or hoarseness in the voice. Antacids are safe to take after meals and before bedtime.

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