Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

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

GERD is a digestive disorder that occurs when your stomach contents flow 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 (sores), narrowing, and bleeding of the esophagus. It may also increase the risk for esophageal cancer.

Causes

GERD can be caused by many factors, including:

  • Eating large meals
  • Eating and drinking large amounts of:
    • Fat
    • Whole milk
    • Citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, grapefruits, and limes)
    • 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 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
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Symptoms

The symptoms of GERD include:

  • Heartburn (a burning sensation in your chest) that usually occurs 30 to 60 minutes after eating
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry cough
  • Wheezing
  • Sore throat
  • Having a sour taste in your mouth from your stomach fluid (acid reflux)
  • Feeling like you have a lump in your throat
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Treatment

The goal of treatment for GERD is to reduce the symptoms. Most people improve with medication and lifestyle changes. Here are some ways you can improve your GERD symptoms:

  • Do not eat large meals. Eat small, frequent meals instead.
  • Do not lie down for at least 2 to 3 hours after eating.
  • Avoid late-night snacks.
  • Avoid:
    • Acidic juices (lemon and orange juice)
    • Alcohol
    • Peppermint
    • Caffeinated drinks (coffee, tea, cola soft drinks)
    • Fatty foods
  • Take antacids (medication that relieves the acid in your stomach) 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
  • Avoid putting pressure on your abdomen.
    • Limit bending and strenuous exercise.
    • Use cough medication if you are coughing a lot.
    • Prevent constipation.
      • For more information about how to manage constipation, ask your nurse for the resource Constipation.
    • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Take the medication your doctor prescribes as instructed.

Call your doctor if your symptoms do not improve or if you have trouble swallowing.

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