Regular heartburn is the main symptom of GERD. Heartburn is a feeling of burning behind the breastbone. It can occur at anytime, but is often aggravated by overeating or lying down after a big meal. Many also have regurgitation, a feeling of food and fluid moving back up the throat or into the mouth.
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The fluids from the stomach can cause: Sour or bitter taste in the back of mouth or throatFeeling of a lump in the throatBurpingBloatingBad breath
The regular reflux of stomach acid can cause irritation of the tissue and other structures of the throat. This irritation can lead to other symptoms, such as: Sore throat
laryngitisChronic coughWheezing or trouble breathingExcessive clearing of throat
Infants with GERD may also have recurrent vomiting. This can affect their ability to get proper nutrition and slow growth and development.
Long-term complications of GERD may include: Inflammation of the esphagus—esophagitisBleeding and ulcers in the esophagusNarrowing of the esophagus—esophageal strictureDental problems, which may occur because of the effect of stomach acid on tooth enamelAsthma
During sleep, acid refluxes from the stomach into the throat, then drains into the lungs—aspiration pneumonia
A precancerous condition that can lead to esophageal cancer—
Barrett’s esophagusEsophageal cancer
The muscles of the esophagus can tighten or spasm. This can cause pain that radiates through the chest and back, similar to how a heart attack may feel. Do not assume that chest pain is an esophageal spasm.
If you have chest pains or other symptoms of a possible heart attack, call for emergency medical services right away. Squeezing or chest pressurePain in the left shoulder, left arm, or jawTrouble breathingSweating, clammy skinNauseaWeaknessLightheadednessPain that starts during activity or stressFeeling of impending doom
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 19, 2015. Accessed February 27, 2015.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The Merck Manual Professional Edition. Available at:
http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal_disorders/esophageal_and_swallowing_disorders/gastroesophageal_reflux_disease_gerd.html. Updated May 2014. Accessed February 27, 2015.
Katz PO, Gerson LB, et al. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108(3):302-328.
Mitre MC, Katzka DA. Pathophysiology of GERD: Lower esophageal sphincter defects. GERD in the 21st Century, Series 5. Practical Gastro website. Available at: http://www.practicalgastro.com/pdf/May04/MitreArticle.pdf. Published May 2004. Accessed February 27, 2015.
Symptoms and causes of gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). National
Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
website. Available at:
http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/ger-and-gerd-in-adults/Pages/symptoms-causes.aspx. Accessed February 27, 2015.
Understanding heartburn and reflux disease. American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at:
http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/heartburn-gerd. Accessed February 27, 2015.
Warning signs of a heart attack. American Heart Association website. Available at:
http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/WarningSignsofaHeartAttack/Warning-Signs-of-a-Heart-Attack_UCM_002039_Article.jsp. Updated May 31, 2014. Accessed February 27, 2015.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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