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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:

Recommended Related to Heartburn/GERD

Do You Have Heartburn?

Your description of your symptoms may be all a doctor requires to diagnose heartburn, but sometimes additional testing may be necessary. The esophagus can be viewed through an endoscope, a long, thin, flexible tube inserted through the mouth, or by X-ray. Sometimes, your doctor may recommend a 24-hour esophageal pH probe study, especially if you have unusual symptoms, such as throat or chest or abdominal pain, coughing, or asthma-like symptoms. In this test, a long, narrow, flexible tube is inserted...

Read the Do You Have Heartburn? article > >

  • 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.

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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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