Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease when stomach acid returns back into the food pipe (esophagus). The reflux irritates the esophagus lining and causes GERD.
Many people experience acid reflux and heartburn. If these signs and symptoms occur at least twice a week or when your doctor finds esophagus damage, you may be diagnosed with GERD.
Frequent acid reflux causes GERD. The reflux occurs because the ring at the bottom part of your esophagus is weakened. Regularly, it should close when it allows food or liquid, but when weakened, stomach acid flows back up into the esophagus. This causes heartburn.
If the heartburn is constant, the esophagus lining is irritated. Over time, this inflammation can thin out the lining and further cause bleeding, esophageal narrowing or Barrett's esophagus (a precancerous condition).
Heartburn is worse if you lye down after eating. Some cases of heartburn can cause sharp chest pains in the mid-chest, which can be mistaken for the pain of angina. Normally, GERD symptoms are:
- Regurgitation (the presence of regurgitated stomach contents in the mouth)
- Nausea, which can lead to vomitting
- Having a sour taste in your mouth since the heartburn spread to your throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Feeling of a lump in your throat
The symptoms may get worse depending on the type of food you eat, which can irritate the stomach, such as peppermint, tomatoes, spicy foods, citrus fruits, alcohol, or caffeinated drinks.
There are several risk factors for acid reflux:
- The top of stomach pushes the diaphragm (hiatal hernia)
- Delayed stomach emptying
- Dry mouth
Complications in acid reflux may occur over time:
- Narrowing of the esophagus. The acid presence damages the cells in the esophagus, which leads to formation of scar tissue. This scarred tissue narrows the food pathway, causing difficulty when swallowing.
- Eesophageal ulcer. Stomach acid is so strong that it can cause an open sore, ulcer. The ulcer may bleed, cause pain, and make swallowing difficult.
- Precancerous changes to the esophagus (Barrett's esophagus). In this case, the esophagus tissue lining changes. These changes may present an increased risk of esophageal cancer. The risk of cancer is low, but your should have regular endoscopy exams to look for early warning signs.