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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) - When To Call a Doctor

The main symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is an uncomfortable feeling of burning, warmth, heat, or pain just behind the breastbone, a feeling commonly referred to as heartburn. Sometimes heartburn can feel like the chest pain of a heart attack.

Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if:

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Understanding Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) -- Diagnosis and Treatment

Your doctor may be able to diagnose gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, from your description of symptoms. The doctor may also suggest tests to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms, to monitor the degree of damage, or to determine the best treatment for you. The three main tests used when GERD is suspected or known are esophageal pH monitoring, endoscopy, and manometry. With pH monitoring, the doctor measures the amount of acid in the esophagus over a 24-48 hour period. This test...

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  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular heartbeat.

After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

Call your doctor immediately if you:

  • Vomit blood.
  • Have bloody, black, or maroon-colored stools.

Call your doctor if your GERD symptoms:

  • Do not improve after 2 weeks of home treatment, are different or are getting worse, or are interfering with normal activities.
  • Occur with choking or difficulty swallowing.
  • Occur with a lot of weight loss when you are not trying to lose weight.
  • Have occurred frequently over several years and are only partially relieved with lifestyle changes and nonprescription medicines that reduce or block acid.

Watchful waiting

Watchful waiting is a wait-and-see approach. Occasional mild heartburn can often be relieved by making lifestyle changes and taking nonprescription medicines that reduce or block acid. Contact a doctor if you have any of the symptoms listed above.

Who to see

The following health professionals can evaluate symptoms of GERD:

You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in diseases of the digestive tract (gastroenterologist) to check severe GERD symptoms or to get an opinion on whether surgery is needed. If you are thinking about having surgery, you may also be referred to a general surgeon who has experience treating stomach and esophagus problems.

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: March 06, 2012
    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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