What is GERD? Common Symptoms and Treatments

If the digestive process held a symphony, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), would be the discordant note disrupting the harmony. Imagine a relentless fire in your chest, a persistent discomfort playing out of tune with your body’s rhythm. It’s like an unwanted after-party, hosted by your last meal, causing bitter or sour notes to rise in your throat. Sometimes, it even plays on the fear of swallowing, making you feel as if a lump has gatecrashed your throat’s party. This off-key experience is GERD’s signature performance in the concert of life.

GERD Symptoms

As previously presented, GERD is a chronic, uncomfortable sensation. Those affected may experience a persistent burning chest pain, commonly known as heartburn.

While the hallmark symptoms of GERD are persistent heartburn and acid regurgitation, there are other, less common symptoms that you may not immediately associate with GERD. These include:

  1. Chronic Cough or Wheezing: GERD can cause a persistent dry cough or a wheezing sound during breathing.
  2. Hoarseness or Sore Throat: Frequent reflux can lead to irritation of the throat and vocal cords, resulting in hoarseness or a sore throat.
  3. Difficulty Swallowing (Dysphagia): This can be caused by damage to the esophagus over time from acid reflux.
  4. Unexplained Weight Loss: Chronic nausea or discomfort from GERD can lead some people to eat less, resulting in weight loss.
  5. Regurgitation of Food or Sour Liquid (Acid Reflux): This is a symptom that may occur predominantly at night. It can also lead to a sour or bitter taste in the mouth.
  6. Sleep Problems and Disorders: GERD can lead to various sleep disorders, including insomnia, sleep apnea, and daytime sleepiness.
  7. Tooth Erosion and Bad Breath: Reflux of stomach acid into the mouth can cause a host of dental issues, including tooth erosion and bad breath.

It’s important to note that symptoms can vary significantly among individuals, and what is described here is a general representation.

What Is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is a common condition characterized by the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus. This reverse flow occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter, a ring of muscle that acts as a valve between the esophagus and stomach, doesn’t close properly.

When this happens, stomach acid can creep up into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the middle of your chest. This is what is commonly referred to as heartburn. While occasional acid reflux is quite normal, frequent episodes could be a sign of GERD, a more serious, chronic form of this condition.

Concerns Associated with Acid Reflux

If left untreated, frequent acid reflux or GERD can lead to various complications that may have serious long-term effects. Here are some concerns associated with acid reflux:

  1. Esophagitis: Constant exposure to stomach acid can irritate and inflame the lining of the esophagus, leading to a condition known as esophagitis. This condition can be painful and make swallowing difficult.
  2. Esophageal Stricture: In response to ongoing inflammation, the esophagus may narrow in areas, creating strictures that can make swallowing food and drink challenging.
  3. Barrett’s Esophagus: Long-term GERD can change the cells lining the esophagus. This condition, known as Barrett’s esophagus, increases the risk of esophageal cancer.
  4. Esophageal Cancer: Persistent acid reflux or GERD can increase the chance of developing adenocarcinoma, a type of esophageal cancer.
  5. Respiratory Problems: GERD is also associated with certain respiratory problems. Acid reflux into the respiratory tract can lead to chronic cough, laryngitis, and even asthma.

Given these potential complications, it’s important to manage and treat GERD effectively and consult a healthcare provider if you experience persistent symptoms of acid reflux.

Potential Risk Factors for GERD

Several diet or lifestyle choices and medications can contribute to the development or worsening of GERD. These include:

Lifestyle Choices:

  1. Dietary Habits: Eating large meals or eating late at night can increase the risk of GERD. Certain foods and drinks such as chocolate, peppermint, fatty or fried foods, coffee, or alcoholic beverages can also trigger reflux and heartburn.
  2. Tobacco and Alcohol Use: Both tobacco and alcohol can interfere with the functioning of the lower esophageal sphincter, allowing stomach acid to reflux into the esophagus.
  3. Obesity: Excessive weight, particularly around the abdomen, can increase pressure on the stomach and cause reflux.
  4. Lack of Physical Activity: Regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of GERD. However, avoid exercising immediately after eating as this can trigger heartburn.
  5. Poor Posture: Sitting or standing with poor posture, especially after eating, can contribute to GERD.
  6. Stress: While stress doesn’t cause GERD, it can make the symptoms worse.


Certain medications can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, increasing the risk of GERD. These include:

  1. NSAIDs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin or ibuprofen can irritate the lining of the esophagus, leading to GERD symptoms.
  2. Bisphosphonates: These are drugs often used to treat osteoporosis and can cause heartburn and other GERD symptoms.
  3. Calcium Channel Blockers and Nitrates: These medications used to treat high blood pressure and heart disease can cause GERD by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter.
  4. Anticholinergics: Medications for conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and overactive bladder can dry out the mucous membranes,

Moreover, specific medical conditions like hiatal hernia, diabetes, asthma, and connective tissue disorders can increase the likelihood of GERD. Stress and lack of sleep can also worsen symptoms of GERD. It is important to understand these potential risk factors and discuss them with a healthcare professional if you are experiencing symptoms.

Services & Treatment for GERD

When it comes to treating GERD, both medical and lifestyle interventions are often employed. Over-the-counter medications like antacids, H-2-receptor blockers, and proton pump inhibitors can help alleviate symptoms by reducing stomach acid. Prescription medications may also be used in more severe cases.

Life-changing interventions such as adopting a healthy diet, reducing alcohol and caffeine intake, weight management, and quitting smoking may also help manage symptoms of GERD and improve quality of life.

In cases where conservative treatments are ineffective, surgical procedures may be considered. These can range from strengthening the esophageal sphincter to more advanced techniques like fundoplication or gastroenterostomy. These services are typically offered by healthcare providers specializing in gastroenterology. Always consult a healthcare professional to determine the most suitable treatment approach for your case.

When to Talk to Your Doctor

If you are experiencing consistent symptoms of GERD, such as frequent heartburn, difficulty swallowing, or regurgitation of food or sour liquid, it is crucial to seek medical attention. Occasional acid reflux is common and has no cause for alarm. Still, if the reflux episodes become more frequent, last longer, or the severity of the symptoms increases, you should consult with a healthcare professional.

Furthermore, if you find that over-the-counter medications are not providing relief or if you are relying on them more frequently to manage symptoms, it is time to talk to your doctor. Also, severe chest pain, especially when combined with difficulty breathing or arm or jaw pain, could be a sign of a more severe condition, like heart disease, and requires immediate medical attention. This conversation with your doctor is the first step towards a diagnosis and effective treatment plan for GERD. Contact an Allied Digestive Health provider today to learn more.