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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) - Topic Overview

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This topic is about gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in adults. For information on reflux in babies and children, see Gastroesophageal Reflux in Babies and Children. For information on reflux while pregnant, see Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease During Pregnancy. For information about occasional heartburn, see Heartburn.

Reflux means that stomach acid and juices flow from the stomach back up into the tube that leads from the throat to the stomach (esophagus camera.gif). This causes heartburn. When you have heartburn that bothers you often, it is called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

Eating too much or bending forward after eating sometimes causes heartburn and a sour taste in the mouth. But having heartburn from time to time doesn't mean that you have GERD. With GERD, the reflux and heartburn last longer and come more often. If this happens to you, be sure to get it treated, because GERD can cause ulcers and damage to your esophagus.

Normally when you swallow your food, it first travels down the food pipe (esophagus). A valve opens to let the food pass into the stomach, and then the valve closes. With GERD, the valve doesn't close tightly enough. Stomach acid and juices from the stomach flow back up (reflux) into the esophagus.

The main symptom of GERD is heartburn. It may feel like a burning, warmth, or pain just behind the breastbone. It is common to have symptoms at night when you're trying to sleep.

If you have pain behind your breastbone, it is important to make sure that it isn't caused by a problem with your heart. The burning sensation caused by GERD usually occurs after you eat. Pain from the heart usually feels like heaviness, tightness, discomfort, or a dull ache. It occurs most often after you are active.

First, your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you questions about your health. You may or may not need further tests. Your doctor may just treat your symptoms by recommending medicines that reduce or block stomach acid. These include H2 blockers such as famotidine (Pepcid) and proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole (Prilosec). If your heartburn goes away after you take the medicine, your doctor will likely diagnose GERD.

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