How GERD occurs in the esophagus
How Heartburn and GERD Occur Open the popup dialog
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid frequently returns to the tube that connects your mouth and stomach (gullet). This backwashing (acid reflux) can irritate the lining of your esophagus.
Many people experience acid reflux from time to time. GERD is mild acid reflux that occurs at least twice a week or moderate to severe acid reflux that occurs at least once a week.
Most people can manage the symptoms of GERD with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. However, some people with GERD may need stronger medication or surgery to relieve symptoms.
Common signs and symptoms of GERD include:
A burning sensation in the chest (heartburn), usually after eating, which can get worse at night
Belching food or acidic liquids
Feeling of a lump in the throat
If you have acid reflux at night, you may also experience:
New or worsening asthma
GERD is caused by frequent acid reflux.
When you swallow, a circular band of muscle around the bottom of your esophagus (the lower esophageal sphincter) relaxes to allow food and fluid to flow into your stomach. Then the sphincter closes.
When the sphincter relaxes or weakens abnormally, stomach acid can rise up the esophagus. This constant backwashing of acid irritates the lining of the esophagus and often causes inflammation.
Conditions that can increase your risk for GERD include:
Swelling of the upper stomach in the diaphragm (hiatal hernia)
Connective tissue disorders such as scleroderma
Delayed gastric emptying
Factors that can make acid reflux worse include:
Eat large meals or eat late at night
Eating certain foods (triggers) such as fatty or fried foods
Drink certain beverages like alcohol or coffee
Take certain medications such as aspirin