GERD Basics

What is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a condition in which the contents of the stomach pass upwards into the esophagus. GERD is a chronic condition that can cause pain and irritation of the esophagus.

What causes GERD?

The lower esophageal sphincter is a section at the bottom of the esophagus that serves as a barrier or valve between the esophagus and the stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, allows food to pass into the stomach when it opens. Once food has passed through, a normal LES will clamp shut. The most common cause of GERD is a malfunctioning LES. If the LES does not close tightly, the acidic stomach contents may leak from stomach into the esophagus. This refluxing can irritate the lining of the esophagus.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms of GERD may vary depending on the severity of the condition, but the most common symptoms generally include indigestion, heartburn, regurgitation, and sore throat. You may also experience dysphagia, which is the term used to describe trouble swallowing. You may find your symptoms are worse at night, after eating, or when bending over. Other symptoms may include voice changes, asthma, choking, coughing, belching, pneumonia, and sinusitis.

How is GERD treated?

In most cases, GERD may be treatable with medication. Your doctor may prescribe medication or recommend over-the-counter medication to help reduce or neutralize the acid in your stomach, to heal the esophageal lining, or to strengthen the LES. Your physician may also recommend weight loss, diet and sleep medication to help reduce GERD symptoms. If the condition is very severe or if it does not respond to these treatments, surgery may be necessary.