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What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?

Reviewed by Donald Hetzel, M.D., Board-Certified Gastroenterologist at Galen Digestive Health


Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a common ailment that affects about 20% of the U.S. population. It can occur in anyone at any age. It is a condition where your stomach acid persistently flows back up into your esophagus and can irritate the lining. While acid reflux can happen to everyone at some point, GERD can be persistent. GERD can range from mild acid reflux that occurs a few times a week or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs daily.


Causes of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Certain factors increase the risk of GERD. One of those factors is a hiatal hernia which allows stomach contents to more easily reflux into the esophagus.  Certain types of food can lead to increased acid reflux such as marinara sauces, coffee, tea, chocolate, peppermint, alcohol, and fried food to name a few. Abdominal pressure also plays a part in an increased risk of GERD. Pregnant women often experience GERD due to them experiencing constant abdominal pressure. Occasionally medication for asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, painkillers, sedatives, and anti-depressants can also lead to GERD. 


Common symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: 

The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. Heartburn is an uncomfortable feeling/pain that starts in your chest and moves up your throat. Some people who have GERD without heartburn.  A few other common symptoms include: 

  • Chest pain 
  • Trouble swallowing 
  • Regurgitation of food 
  • A sensation of a lump in your throat 
  • Dry cough 
  • Bad breath 


If you experience nighttime acid reflux, your symptoms may include: 

  • Chronic cough 
  • Laryngitis 
  • New or worsening asthma 
  • Disrupted sleep 


How to prevent symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: 

Here are a few lifestyle changes that you can take to help lessen your GERD symptoms. 

  • Adjusting your diet 
  • Maintain a healthy weight 
  • East small frequent meals 
  • Reduce fats in your diets 
  • Sit upright while eating and afterwards for a couple hours
  • Avoid eating before bedtime. Wait at least three hours after eating to go to bed. 
  • Try not to wear clothes that are tight in the belly area. 
  • Raise the head of the bed about 6-8 inches 
  • Stop smoking 
  • Cut out all trigger foods 



When to see a doctor: 

GERD is not life-threatening or dangerous on its own though long-term GERD can lead to more significant health problems such as esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, esophageal cancer, and strictures. If you are experiencing acid reflux/heartburn more than twice a week over several weeks, and antacids are no longer working, you may consider going to see a doctor.  


At Galen Digestive Health, we strive to provide the highest quality, most effective, and most compassionate care to our patients with digestive health problems. If you are suffering from GERD or have ongoing acid reflux and would like to talk to a healthcare professional, call (423) 698-8101 today to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.