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Heartburn/GERD Health Center

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How Acid Reducers Can Help Treat Heartburn

What is GERD?

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.

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The hiatus is an opening in the diaphragm (a muscle separating the abdomen and chest) that the esophagus, or swallowing tube, passes through to reach the stomach. If the hiatus weakens and stretches, part of the stomach can squeeze into the chest cavity, producing a hiatal hernia. There are two main types of hiatal hernias: sliding and paraesophageal (next to the esophagus). In a sliding hiatal hernia, the junction where the stomach and the esophagus meets slides up into the chest through...

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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:

  • Barium swallow
  • Upper endoscopy, which uses an endoscope -- a thin, flexible tube that has a light and a camera
  • pH monitoring exam
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