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GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

is reflux that happens more than 2 times a week for a few weeks. Reflux means acid and food in your stomach back up into your esophagus. GERD can cause other health problems over time if it is not treated.

Digestive Tract

Common causes of GERD:

GERD often happens because the lower muscle (sphincter) of the esophagus does not close properly. The sphincter normally opens to let food into the stomach. It then closes to keep food and stomach acid in the stomach. If the sphincter does not close properly, stomach acid and food back up (reflux) into the esophagus. The following may increase your risk for GERD:

  • Certain foods such as spicy foods, chocolate, foods that contain caffeine, peppermint, and fried foods
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Certain medicines such as calcium channel blockers (used to treat high blood pressure), allergy medicines, sedatives, or antidepressants
  • Pregnancy, obesity, or scleroderma
  • Lying down after a meal
  • Drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes

Signs and symptoms:

  • Heartburn (burning pain in your chest)
  • Pain after meals that spreads to your neck, jaw, or shoulder
  • Pain that gets better when you change positions
  • Bitter or acid taste in your mouth
  • A dry cough
  • Trouble swallowing or pain with swallowing
  • Hoarseness or a sore throat
  • Burping or hiccups
  • Feeling full soon after you start eating

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have severe chest pain and sudden trouble breathing.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You have trouble breathing after you vomit.
  • You have trouble swallowing, or pain with swallowing.
  • Your bowel movements are black, bloody, or tarry-looking.
  • Your vomit looks like coffee grounds or has blood in it.

Call your doctor or gastroenterologist if:

  • You feel full and cannot burp or vomit.
  • You vomit large amounts, or you vomit often.
  • You are losing weight without trying.
  • Your symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

Treatment for GERD:

  • Medicines are used to decrease stomach acid. Medicine may also be used to help your lower esophageal sphincter and stomach contract (tighten) more.
  • Surgery is done to wrap the upper part of the stomach around the esophageal sphincter. This will strengthen the sphincter and prevent reflux.

Manage GERD:

Prevent GERD
  • Do not have foods or drinks that may increase heartburn. These include chocolate, peppermint, fried or fatty foods, drinks that contain caffeine, or carbonated drinks (soda). Other foods include spicy foods, onions, tomatoes, and tomato-based foods. Do not have foods or drinks that can irritate your esophagus, such as citrus fruits, juices, and alcohol.
  • Do not eat large meals. When you eat a lot of food at one time, your stomach needs more acid to digest it. Eat 6 small meals each day instead of 3 large meals, and eat slowly. Do not eat meals 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Elevate the head of your bed. Place 6-inch blocks under the head of your bed frame. You may also use more than one pillow under your head and shoulders while you sleep.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, weight loss may help relieve symptoms of GERD.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking weakens the lower esophageal sphincter and increases the risk of GERD. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Do not put pressure on your abdomen. Pressure pushes acid up into your esophagus. Do not wear clothing that is tight around your waist. Do not bend over. Bend at the knees if you need to pick something up.

Follow up with your doctor or gastroenterologist as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

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