When you have GERD (chronic acid reflux) your stomach acid persistently flows back up into your mouth through your esophagus. You may experience heartburn, acid indigestion, trouble swallowing, feeling of food caught in your throat and other problems.
GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or chronic acid reflux) is a condition in which acid-containing contents in your stomach persistently leak back up into your esophagus, the tube from your throat to your stomach.
Acid reflux happens because a valve at the end of your esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter, doesn’t close properly when food arrives at your stomach. Acid backwash then flows back up through your esophagus into your throat and mouth, giving you a sour taste.
Acid reflux happens to nearly everyone at some point in life. Having acid reflux and heartburn now and then is totally normal. But, if you have acid reflux/heartburn more than twice a week over a period of several weeks, constantly take heartburn medications and antacids yet your symptoms keep returning, you may have developed GERD. Your GERD should be treated by your healthcare provider. Not just to relieve your symptoms, but because GERD can lead to more serious problems.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
The main symptoms are persistent heartburn and acid regurgitation. Some people have GERD without heartburn. Instead, they experience pain in the chest, hoarseness in the morning or trouble swallowing. You may feel like you have food stuck in your throat, or like you are choking or your throat is tight. GERD can also cause a dry cough and bad breath.
Heartburn is a symptom of acid reflux. It’s a painful burning sensation in the middle of your chest caused by irritation to the lining of the esophagus caused by stomach acid.
This burning can come on anytime but is often worse after eating. For many people heartburn worsens when they recline or lie in bed, which makes it hard to get a good night’s sleep.
Fortunately, heartburn can usually be managed with over-the-counter (OTC) heartburn/acid indigestion drugs. Your healthcare provider can also prescribe stronger medicines to help tame your heartburn.
With GERD — when reflux and heartburn happen more than once in a while — the tissue lining your esophagus is getting battered regularly with stomach acid. Eventually the tissue becomes damaged. If you have this chronic acid reflux and heartburn you can see it’s affecting your daily eating and sleeping habits.
When GERD makes your daily life uncomfortable in this way, call your healthcare provider. Although GERD isn’t life-threatening in itself, its chronic inflammation of the esophagus can lead to something more serious. You may need stronger prescription medications or even surgery to ease your symptoms.
GERD is very common. The condition and its symptoms touch a huge number of people: 20% of the U.S. population.
Anyone of any age can develop GERD, but some may be more at risk for it. For example, the chances you’ll have some form of GERD (mild or severe) increase after age 40.
You’re also more likely to have it if you’re:
Acid reflux is caused by weakness or relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter (valve). Normally this valve closes tightly after food enters your stomach. If it relaxes when it shouldn’t, your stomach contents rise back up into the esophagus.
Factors that can lead to this include:
Different people are affected in different ways by GERD. The most common symptoms are:
Infants and children can experience similar symptoms of GERD, as well as:
Chest pain caused by heartburn may make you afraid you’re having a heart attack. Heartburn has nothing to do with your heart, but since the discomfort is in your chest it may be hard to know the difference while it’s going on. But symptoms of a heart attack are different than heartburn.
Heartburn is that uncomfortable burning feeling or pain in your chest that can move up to your neck and throat. A heart attack can cause pain in the arms, neck and jaw, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, dizziness, extreme fatigue and anxiety, among other symptoms.
If your heartburn medication doesn’t help and your chest pain is accompanied by these symptoms, call for medical attention right away.
We don’t know the exact relationship between GERD and asthma. More than 75% of people with asthma have GERD. They are twice as likely to have GERD as people without asthma. GERD may make asthma symptoms worse, and asthma drugs may make GERD worse. But treating GERD often helps to relieve asthma symptoms.
The symptoms of GERD can injure the lining of the throat, airways and lungs, making breathing difficult and causing a persistent cough, which may suggest a link. Doctors mostly look at GERD as a cause of asthma if:
If you have asthma and GERD, your healthcare provider can help you find the best ways to handles both conditions — the right medications and treatments that won’t aggravate symptoms of either disease.
GERD isn’t life-threatening or dangerous in itself. But long-term GERD can lead to more serious health problems:
Usually your provider can tell if you have simple acid reflux (not chronic) by talking with you about your symptoms and medical history. You and your provider can talk about managing your symptoms through diet and medications.
If these strategies don’t help, your provider may ask you to get tested for GERD. Tests for GERD include:
GERD is usually treated on an outpatient basis. However your child will need to be hospitalized if he or she:
Many over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications relieve GERD. Most of OTC drugs come in prescription strength too. Your provider will give you a prescription for these stronger drugs if you’re not getting relief from the OTC formulas.
The most common GERD medications:
GERD is usually managed with medications and lifestyle changes (like eating habits). If these don’t work, or if you can’t take medications for an extended period, surgery may be a solution.
Approaches may include one or more of the following:
Here are 10 tips to help prevent GERD symptoms:
Adjusting your diet and eating habits play a key role in managing the symptoms of GERD. Try to avoid the trigger foods that keep giving you heartburn.
For example, many people get heartburn from:
Keep a record of the trigger foods that give you trouble. Talk with your provider to get help with this. They’ll have suggestions about how to log foods and times of day you should eat.
You can manage the symptoms of GERD. If you adjust your eating and sleeping habits and take medications when needed, you should be able to get your GERD symptoms to a manageable level.
If you experience acid reflux/heartburn more than twice a week over a period of several weeks, constantly take heartburn and antacids and your symptoms keep returning, call your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/06/2019.
Learn more about our editorial process.