Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic medical condition resulting from the improper functioning of the ringlike muscles that prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus—the tube connecting the mouth and stomach. This condition can cause a variety of distressing symptoms, making it essential to recognize and address them promptly.
Common Symptoms of GERD
Two of the most common symptoms associated with GERD are heartburn and regurgitation. While many individuals experience both of these symptoms concurrently, some may encounter one without the other.
Heartburn manifests as a sharp, painful burning sensation in the upper abdomen or the middle of the chest, typically behind the breastbone. It is the most prevalent symptom of GERD and can often rise towards the throat. Heartburn may intensify after eating, bending over, or lying down.
Regurgitation is the phenomenon in which stomach contents flow back into the esophagus, sometimes reaching the throat or mouth. This may result in the perception of tasting food or stomach acid.
Additional Symptoms of GERD
Although chronic heartburn and regurgitation are hallmark symptoms of GERD, other, less common manifestations may also occur. It's important to note that not all adults with GERD experience heartburn or regurgitation. Additional symptoms may include:
- Difficulty swallowing (food sticking while swallowing) or pain during swallowing
- Recurring sour or bitter taste in the mouth
- Chronic cough
- Sore throat
- Chest pain or tightness in the chest or upper abdomen, which may awaken you at night
Conditions Confused with GERD
Pain resembling heartburn can sometimes be mistaken for a heart attack. Both heartburn and heart disease often present with discomfort in the center of the chest. Of the more than eight million annual emergency room visits for chest pain, severe heartburn (GERD) accounts for over half the cases where heart problems are ruled out. While heartburn is more likely to occur after a large or spicy meal, heart attacks are more commonly associated with physical exertion or stress. If you are uncertain about the source of your discomfort, seek immediate medical assistance.
When to Consult a Doctor about GERD
If you suspect that you have GERD or if your symptoms do not improve with over-the-counter medications such as antacids or lifestyle modifications, it is advisable to consult a healthcare professional. Early diagnosis and management of the underlying causes of GERD can prevent more serious complications.
Always seek medical attention if you experience symptoms that may indicate GERD complications or other severe health issues, such as:
- Chest pain
- Loss of appetite
- Persistent vomiting
- Problems swallowing or pain while swallowing
- Signs of bleeding in the digestive tract, including vomit containing blood or resembling coffee grounds, or black and tarry stools
- Unexplained weight loss
In case you suspect a heart attack, do not hesitate to go to the emergency room.
It's worth noting that up to 20% of the US population has GERD, with a higher prevalence among older adults, obese individuals, and pregnant women.
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