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Redmond Regional Medical Center
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Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

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.

Heartburn
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The fluids from the stomach can cause:

  • Sour or bitter taste in the back of mouth or throat
  • Feeling of a lump in the throat
  • Burping
  • Bloating
  • Bad 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
  • Chronic laryngitis
  • Chronic cough
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Excessive 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—esophagitis
  • Bleeding and ulcers in the esophagus
  • Narrowing of the esophagus—esophageal stricture
  • Dental problems, which may occur because of the effect of stomach acid on tooth enamel
  • Asthma attacks
  • 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 esophagus
  • Esophageal 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 pressure
  • Pain in the left shoulder, left arm, or jaw
  • Trouble breathing
  • Sweating, clammy skin
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Pain that starts during activity or stress
  • Feeling of impending doom

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
  • Review Date: 05/2015 -
  • Update Date: 05/20/2015 -
  • 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%5Fdisorders/esophageal%5Fand%5Fswallowing%5Fdisorders/gastroesophageal%5Freflux%5Fdisease%5Fgerd.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%5FUCM%5F002039%5FArticle.jsp. Updated May 31, 2014. Accessed February 27, 2015.