Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

What is gastroesophageal reflux disease?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (commonly known as GERD or GORD) is a condition in which stomach acid leaks backwards up the esophagus (the tube between mouth and stomach). This is a common condition, especially in people over the age of 40 and in pregnant women. People who smoke, who drink alcohol, and those who are obese, are more likely to develop gastroesophageal reflux. Common symptoms are a burning pain in the chest (known as heartburn) and an acidic taste in the mouth. The symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux are managed by changing diet and lifestyle factors (for example, losing weight, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol intake) and by taking medications to reduce stomach acidity. Gastroesophageal reflux disease can be well managed, and usually causes no long-term problems.

Risks

This condition is most common in people older than 40, however it can occur in people of any age. Pregnant women also often suffer from gastroesophageal reflux, due to the baby pressing upwards on the stomach. People who smoke, who drink alcohol, and those who are obese are more likely to develop gastroesophageal reflux.

Symptoms

Typical symptoms include heartburn (a burning pain in the chest), pain on swallowing and an acidic taste in the mouth. Other less common symptoms include coughing, wheezing and a hoarse voice. Symptoms occur due to the stomach acid irritating the inner lining of the esophagus, throat and mouth.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis can be made without investigation when a person reports typical symptoms and has no symptoms which point to a different, possibly more serious, condition. If the symptoms are not typical, an endoscopy (a camera through the mouth to the stomach) may be needed to confirm the diagnosis and exclude other conditions. Other tests that confirm the diagnosis measure the acid levels or the pressure in the lower esophagus.

Treatment

Losing weight, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake are helpful in reducing the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux. Avoiding foods that make symptoms worse (such as onions, tomatoes, chocolate and spicy foods) may also be helpful. Some people take antacids as needed to relieve the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux. Some medications which reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach are also an effective way to reduce the symptoms of GERD. These medications are taken regularly to avoid symptoms.

Prevention

Losing weight, avoiding alcohol and quitting smoking can help to prevent gastroesophageal reflux disease. Treating the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux helps to prevent the long-term complications of this condition.

Other names for gastroesophageal reflux disease

  • Acid reflux disease'
  • GERD