What is GERD? Is it Acid Reflux?
Dr. Liu: Acid reflux and GERD are related, but not the same.
It is normal to have a small amount of acid reflux, especially if the symptoms — heartburn, regurgitation — are short-lived and only slightly bothersome. Acid reflux occurs when acid that normally sits in the stomach flows back up into esophagus, throat, and mouth. It generally occurs when the valve that separates the esophagus and stomach, called the lower esophageal sphincter, opens temporarily to help vent gas from the stomach.
When you have a long-standing and frequent history of acid reflux, exposure to esophageal acid may eventually cause GERD.
GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. As its last letter describes, GERD is a disease and can lead to damage and, eventually, complications to the esophagus over time.
Unlike acid reflux, GERD is not normal and should be treated.
What are the symptoms of GERD?
Like acid reflux, GERD has two classic symptoms: heartburn (the feeling of burning pain behind the chest) and acid regurgitation (when stomach acid and undigested food flow back up into the throat and mouth in an effortless manner).
These two symptoms typically occur after meals, especially larger ones. Lying down makes it easier for stomach contents to move up to your chest so take a walk, not a nap, after a big meal.
GERD can also cause upper abdominal burning or pain, difficulty swallowing, chronic cough, hoarseness, and sore throat. More rarely, it causes asthma and dental erosions. GERD does not cause shortness of breath, back pain, diarrhea, or pale stools. People with those symptoms should consult a doctor.
What causes GERD?
Caffeine, alcohol, and especially cigarette smoking can facilitate acid reflux and GERD, in part by opening the lower esophageal sphincter valve.
A common risk factor that allows acid reflux to occur more readily is obesity, where the presence of extra tissue in front of the stomach helps push stomach acid up into the esophagus.
In people with GERD, big holiday dinners can be problematic. It’s difficult, but resist that extra serving of stuffing, no matter how good it is, as overeating can be triggering. Try limiting the amount of cranberry sauce you consume; it is acidic and can worsen symptoms too. Finally, avoid excessive alcohol intake. Your esophagus will thank you!”