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Signs You Have GERD, According to Physicians

Heartburn can become chronic and progress to GERD.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

For many people, heartburn is a minor and occasional discomfort. But for others, heartburn can become chronic, progressing to GERD (gastrointestinal reflux disease), which raises your risk of developing one of the most lethal cancers. These are the symptoms of GERD that physicians say you should be on the lookout for (heartburn is only one). Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

What Are Heartburn And Acid Reflux?

Asian young woman feeling discomfort as suffering from heartburn holding chest with closed eyes and sitting with folded legs on couch at home.
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Heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD are related, but those terms signify different things. "Heartburn is a condition in which you feel burning behind your chest, and it can be a symptom of reflux," says Atif Iqbal, MD, FACS, FASMBS, medical director of the Digestive Care Center at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. "Reflux is the medical term given to the stomach contents coming up into your esophagus. Heartburn is one of the common symptoms."

2

What's the Difference Between Acid Reflux and GERD?

 

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GERD is a disease that occurs with progressive exposure of acid to the esophagus, says Iqbal. It develops slowly and may develop changes in the lining of the esophagus, leading to Barrett's disease and esophageal cancer. Heartburn is one symptom of GERD.

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3

What Are The Symptoms Of GERD?

woman touching her neck and feeling pain in throat while sitting in the living room at home.
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People with GERD may experience a variety of symptoms. The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. Other symptoms may include:

  • Regurgitation
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Chest pain
  • Hoarseness

If you're experiencing symptoms of GERD, see your doctor. They will take a medical history and perform a physical exam. They may also order diagnostic tests specific for GERD, such as an upper endoscopy, a bravo capsule acid test, an esophageal motility test, or a barium swallow.

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4

What Are The Triggers?

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Acid reflux can have several triggers, says Iqbal, including certain drugs (such as ibuprofen, naproxen, albuterol, antibiotics, and high blood pressure medications), certain supplements (like fish oil), smoking, stress, obesity, certain foods (like chocolate, onions, garlic, tomato sauce, or fatty or fried foods), alcohol, caffeine, and hiatal hernia.

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5

What Are Some Common Treatments?

 

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If GERD is mild, nonprescription antacids can be used, says Iqbal. Lifestyle changes can also help, including: 

  • Maintain a healthy weight. "Excess pounds put pressure on your abdomen, pushing up your stomach and causing acid to back up into your esophagus," says Iqbal. 
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing. "Clothes that fit tightly around your waist put pressure on your abdomen and the lower esophageal sphincter," notes Iqbal.
  • Avoid foods and drinks that trigger heartburn. 
  • Eat smaller meals. 
  • Don't lie down after a meal. Iqbal recommends waiting at least three hours after eating before lying down or going to bed.
  • Elevate the head of your bed. If you regularly experience heartburn at night or while trying to sleep, Iqbal advises raising the head of your bed by six to nine inches. You can do this by placing wood or cement blocks under the feet of your bed, or inserting a wedge between your mattress and box spring to elevate your body from the waist up. 
  • Don't smoke. 

For moderate to severe GERD, surgery may be necessary to repair the mechanical defect in the esophagus that causes acid reflux. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor whose health and lifestyle content has also been published on Beachbody and Openfit. A contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, he has also been published in New York, Architectural Digest, Interview, and many others. Read more about Michael