Gastroesophageal reflux disease — or simply GERD — is repeated and frequent heartburn or acid indigestion. Eat too much or bend over after eating can cause heartburn or a sour, acid taste in our mouths. That’s common. But if you have GERD, these symptoms last longer and happen often.
The most common reason is a faulty esophageal sphincter — the valve that opens when you swallow to let food pass from your esophagus (food pipe) to your stomach. When this valve doesn’t close tightly enough, digestive juice and acid from stomach can flow up (reflux).
Symptoms of GERD
Many of the symptoms of GERD are caused or made worse by food. That’s because food triggers this valve to relax and your stomach to produce acid.
These symptoms include:
- Stubborn and frequent heartburn — after you eat, lie down or bend over
- Bitter, sour taste in your mouth
- Chest discomfort or pain— can happen with heartburn
- Trouble or pain swallowing — can indicate an advanced stage of GERD
- Throat irritation or cough — like there’s something stuck in your throat
- Hoarseness or lost voice (laryngitis)
- Over-production of saliva
Is it GERD or your heart? Heartburn (in your chest, just behind your breastbone) can feel like a heart problem. Heartburn will feel like a burning sensation and usually starts after you eat. If the pain happens after exercise and is more of a dull ache, tightness in your chest and discomfort, then it may be your heart and you should seek immediate medical attention.
GERD treatment and lifestyle changes
The good news is that GERD treatment usually starts with a few lifestyle changes:
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day— not your standard three meals a day.
- Eat at least 2-3 hours before going to bed — or anytime you want to lie down.
- Avoid foods that trigger GERD — most common ones are peppermint, chocolate, acidic foods (like citrus fruit or tomatoes), spicy and fatty foods.
- Avoid drinks that trigger GERD — like coffee and alcohol.
- Lose weight — if you’re carrying extra pounds.
- Don’t smoke.
- Raise the head of your bed — by 6-8 inches using blocks or a foam wedge.
Treating GERD is important because if it advances, it can lead to some serious complications, including: