GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. It’s heartburn (or reflux) that happens two or more times per week. It’s more serious than regular heartburn.
The problem lies at the place where your esophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach) connects to your stomach.
You have a muscular valve there. It’s called the lower esophageal sphincter. Its job is to keep stomach acid in your stomach. But if that valve doesn’t work well, the acid can go back up into your esophagus. That’s reflux.
If stomach acid goes into your esophagus, you may have heartburn and belching. If it goes higher into your throat, you may have hoarseness and sore throat. And if it gets into your mouth, you’ll notice a bitter taste in your mouth, and you may cough. If it happens a lot, it may wear down your tooth enamel or worsen the symptoms of asthma.
What Makes GERD More Likely?
Things that put you at risk include:
- Being overweight
- Some medications
- Chronic constipation
- Certain foods, like fatty or spicy foods, caffeine, and peppermint
The most common one is chronic heartburn. Others include:
- Chronic sore throat
- Trouble or pain when swallowing
- Suddenly having too much saliva
- Sour or bitter taste in the mouth
- Bad breath
- Inflammation of the gums
- Erosion of tooth enamel (the surface of the teeth)
- Chest pain
NOTE: Chest pain can also be due to heart disease. So be sure to call your doctor immediately if you have chest pain.
Sometimes, there are no symptoms and you only find out that you have GERD if it causes other problems.
Over time, untreated GERD may cause:
Esophagitis. This is an irritation and inflammation of the lining of the esophagus caused by stomach acid.
Trouble swallowing. Your doctor may call this dysphagia. It can happen if scarring narrows your esophagus.
Barrett's esophagus . This means that there are changes in the cells of the esophagus that may be precancerous.
Esophageal cancer . Years of exposure to stomach acid may cause cancer of the esophagus.