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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

This information describes the causes, symptoms, and treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). 

GERD is a chronic digestive disorder that occurs when stomach acid flows back into your esophagus (food pipe). This backwash (also called reflux) can cause esophagitis, which is inflammation of the lining of the esophagus. If left untreated, esophagitis can cause ulcers, narrowing, and bleeding of the esophagus. It may also increase the risk for esophageal cancer. 
 

Causes

GERD can be caused by:
 
  • Eating large meals
  • Eating and drinking large amounts of:
    • Fat
    • Whole milk
    • Citrus fruits
    • Chocolate
    • Mints
    • Tomatoes
    • Caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, cola soft drinks)
  • Exercising after a meal
  • Lying down, especially after meals
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Having a hiatal hernia (bulging of the top of stomach up into the diaphragm)
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Pressure on the abdomen (belly). This can occur if you strain to move your bowels due to constipation or during coughing, bending, or lifting

Symptoms

The symptoms of GERD include:
 
  • Heartburn (a burning sensation in your chest) that usually occurs 30 to 60 minutes after eating
  • Chest pain
  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • Dry cough
  • Wheezing
  • Hoarseness or sore throat
  • Regurgitation of food or sour liquid (acid reflux)
  • Sensation of a lump in your throat

Treatment

The goal of treatment for GERD is to reduce the symptoms. Most people improve with medication and lifestyle changes. The suggestions below may help relieve the symptoms of GERD:
 
  • Do not eat large meals. Rather, eat small, frequent meals.
  • Do not lie down for at least 2 to 3 hours after eating.
  • Avoid late-night snacks.
  • Avoid:
    • Acidic juices
    • Alcohol
    • Peppermint
    • Caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, cola soft drinks)
    • Fatty foods
  • Take antacids or sit upright to relieve heartburn.
  • Do not smoke cigarettes or use other tobacco products.
  • Use blocks or wedges to elevate the head of your bed to 45 degrees. 
  • Avoid putting pressure on your abdomen.
    • Limit bending and vigorous exercise.
    • Use cough medicine if you are coughing a lot.
    • Prevent constipation.
    • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Take the medication your doctor prescribes as instructed. 
Tell your doctor if your symptoms do not improve or if you have trouble swallowing.