Gastroesophageal reflux, commonly known as heartburn, is a burning feeling in the center of your chest. It often happens after you eat, after you bend over, or when you lie down. Nearly everyone experiences mild reflux symptoms at some point in life. But GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is reflux that occurs often enough that the symptoms are bothersome.
When you swallow, food passes down your throat and through your esophagus to your stomach. A muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter controls the opening between the esophagus and the stomach. It remains tightly closed except when you swallow. When this muscle fails to close, the contents of the stomach, which contain acid, can travel back up into the esophagus. This backward movement is called reflux. When stomach acid enters the lower part of the esophagus, it can produce the burning sensation of heartburn.
Heartburn can often be prevented. Follow these tips to help prevent heartburn:
Maintain a reasonable weight.
Avoid any foods and beverages that worsen your symptoms.
Wear clothes that are loose around the waist.
Eat smaller meals and try not to overeat.
Get enough sleep and minimize stress.
Wait three hours after eating before you lie down.
Elevate the head of your bed six to eight inches.
When reflux happens only occasionally, it is not really a concern. If it happens more than two times per week, reflux becomes GERD.
Who Gets GERD?
GERD can happen to people at any age.
What Are the Symptoms of GERD?
Frequent heartburn (also called acid indigestion or acid reflux) is the most common symptom of GERD. However, some adults with GERD and most children under the age of 12 do not have heartburn. In these people, symptoms of GERD might include coughing, problems swallowing, and/or asthma-like breathing symptoms.
How Is GERD Diagnosed?
A doctor will do a physical exam and take a medical history to diagnose GERD. He or she may also order certain tests, including: