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What is GERD

Heartburn is a combination of symptoms caused by Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). Normally food flows from the mouth into the esophagus and then down into the stomach. The junction of the esophagus and the stomach usually works as a one way valve and allows food into the stomach but prevents stomach juice from getting back into the esophagus. When this valve doesn’t work, the bottom of the esophagus is irritated by the gastric juice causing it to work even less. The result can be chest pain, regurgitation and choking. The bottom of the esophagus has a special muscle control called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). GERD occurs when the LES opens spontaneously, for varying periods of time, or does not close properly and stomach contents rise up into the esophagus. GERD is also called acid reflux or acid regurgitation, because digestive juices — called acids — rise up with the food.

When acid reflux occurs, food or fluid can be tasted in the back of the mouth. When refluxed stomach acid touches the lining of the esophagus it may cause a burning sensation in the chest or throat called heartburn or acid indigestion. Occasional GERD is common, but persistent reflux symptoms that occur more than twice a week can eventually lead to more serious health problems. People of all ages can have GERD.

What are the symptoms of GERD?

The main symptom of GERD in adults is frequent heartburn — also called acid indigestion —  which is characterized by burning-type pain in the lower part of the mid-chest, behind the breast bone, and in the mid-abdomen. Most children under 12 years with GERD, and some adults, have GERD without heartburn. Instead, they may experience a dry cough, asthma symptoms, or trouble swallowing.

What are some of the reasons GERD should be treated?

If GERD is not treated, you may experience any of the following symptoms or related diseases:
• pain
• heartburn
• coughing
• vocal cord problems
• difficulty swallowing
• scarring of the esophagus
• Barrett’s
• cancer
• asthma
• loss of sleep
• pneumonia

How is GERD diagnosed?

There are a number of different tests that enable a physician to observe your esophagus function including: barium swallow radiograph, upper endoscopy, pH monitoring examination,  manometry and gastric emptying study. Learn more about how physicians diagnose and treat GERD. Learn more about how physicians diagnose and treat GERD

How do I know if I need to seek treatment?

See your healthcare provider if you have had symptoms of GERD and have been using antacids or other over-the-counter reflux medications for more than two weeks. OSU Medical Center doctors are specialty trained and have expertise in managing the various symptoms caused by GERD. Depending on the severity of your GERD, treatment may involve lifestyle changes, medications or surgery. The Ohio State University Medical Center's surgical team specializes in advanced procedures for GERD.

Points to Remember

  • Frequent heartburn, also called acid indigestion, is the most common symptom of GERD in adults. Anyone experiencing heartburn twice a week or more may have GERD.
  • You can have GERD without having heartburn. Your symptoms could include a dry cough, asthma symptoms, or trouble swallowing.
  • If you have been using antacids for more than two weeks, it is time to see your healthcare provider. Many doctors can treat mild GERD, but specialists like fellowship trained gastrointestinal surgeons may have the best expertise to treat your symptoms.
  • Healthcare providers usually recommend lifestyle and dietary changes to relieve symptoms of GERD as the first step. Many people with GERD also need medication. Modern treatment options allow a mechanical repair of the LES that can actually cure GERD.