Lots of people are intimately familiar with acid reflux symptoms. More than 60 million Americans experience acid reflux at least once a month. Acid reflux disease, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can produce a variety of symptoms.
What Are the Common Acid Reflux Symptoms?
Heartburn, regurgitation, and dyspepsia are a few of the most common acid reflux symptoms.
Heartburn. Also called acid indigestion, heartburn is a burning pain or discomfort that can move up from your stomach to the middle of your abdomen and chest. The pain can also move into your throat. Despite its name, heartburn doesn't affect your heart.
Regurgitation. Another common symptom of acid reflux is regurgitation -- or the sensation of acid backing up into your throat or mouth. Regurgitation can produce a sour or bitter taste, and you may experience "wet burps."
Dyspepsia. Many people with acid reflux disease also have a syndrome called dyspepsia. Dyspepsia is a general term for stomach discomfort. Symptoms of dyspepsia include:
Symptoms of acid reflux may be a sign that stomach acid has inflamed your esophagus. When that happens, stomach acid can damage the lining of your esophagus and cause bleeding. Over time, it can also change the cells of esphagus and cause cancer (Barrett's esophagus).
Although acid reflux is extremely common and rarely serious, don't ignore your acid reflux symptoms. Making a few lifestyle changes and using over-the-counter antacids are often all you need to control acid reflux symptoms.
When Do Acid Reflux Symptoms Occur?
Acid reflux symptoms most often occur:
- After eating a heavy meal
- When bending over or lifting an object
- When lying down, especially on your back
People who have frequent acid reflux symptoms most often experience them at night. Nighttime GERD also produces the most pain. However, the level of pain does not always indicate the degree of damage to your esophagus.
More than half of all pregnant women experience heartburn during pregnancy. Increased hormones and pressure from a growing fetus can combine to produce this acid reflux symptom. In most cases, heartburn improves or completely goes away after delivery.
What Makes Acid Reflux Symptoms Worse?
Certain foods can make the symptoms of acid reflux worse for some people. To lessen your symptoms, try avoiding:
- Citrus fruits
- Caffeinated drinks or alcohol
- Spicy, fatty, or fried foods
- Garlic and onions
Are There Potential Complications With Acid Reflux Symptoms?
Usually, acid reflux symptoms cause no complications. In a few cases, continued esophageal damage can lead to scarring, which may cause the esophagus to narrow. The narrowing creates strictures and makes it difficult to swallow. You may have dysphagia, a sensation that food is stuck in your esophagus. In some cases, normal cells in the lining of the esophagus may be replaced by a different type of cell. This is called Barrett's esophagus, which can sometimes develop into cancer.
When Should I Call the Doctor With Acid Reflux Symptoms?
Be sure to call your doctor if you don't get lasting relief from medications. Also call the doctor right away if you have any "alarm" acid reflux symptoms, such as these:
- Unexpected weight loss
- Blood in vomit
- Black, tarry, or maroon-colored stools
- Difficulty or pain with swallowing
Other acid reflux symptoms that should prompt a call to your doctor include:
- Asthma-like symptoms, such as wheezing or dry cough
- Hoarseness, especially in the morning
- Chronic sore throat
- Hiccups that don't let up
- Nausea that lasts for more than a day or two
Sometimes, people confuse the symptoms of heart attack with symptoms of acid reflux disease. That's because pain in the chest can feel like heartburn. When in doubt, call your doctor.
Call 911 if you have any of these symptoms of heart attack:
- Chest pain, pressure, or fullness lasting more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back
- Pain or discomfort in your neck, shoulder, upper back, or jaw
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest pain
- Dizziness, lightheadedness, or nausea
- Sweating along with chest pain