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Heartburn/GERD Health Center

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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) - Cause

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) camera.gif happens when stomach acid and juices back up, or reflux, into the esophagus camera.gif, the tube that connects the throat to the stomach. This occurs when the valve between the lower end of the esophagus and the stomach (the lower esophageal sphincter) does not close tightly enough.

Most of the time, GERD happens when the valve relaxes at the wrong time and stays open too long. Normally, the valve is only open for a few seconds when you swallow. Some foods, like peppermint and chocolate, may relax the valve so it doesn't close tightly. Alcohol, tobacco, and some medicines can also relax the valve.

Some foods can make GERD worse. Avoiding them can help reduce heartburn. These include citrus fruits, fatty and fried foods, garlic and onions, spicy foods, and tomato-based foods like spaghetti sauce and pizza.

Other things can make stomach juices back up, such as:

  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy.Heartburn is common during pregnancy, because hormones cause the digestive system to slow down.
  • A weak lower esophageal sphincter. If this valve is weak, it won't close normally, and reflux will occur more often.
  • Hiatal hernia. GERD is common among people who have hiatal hernias.
  • Slow digestion. If food stays in your stomach too long before it goes to the small intestine, the stomach contents are more likely to get pushed up into the esophagus and cause heartburn.
  • Overfull stomach. Having a very full stomach increases the chance that the valve will relax and let stomach juices back up into your esophagus.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: November 14, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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