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What is GERD?

Last Modified: January 26, 2024

Diseases & Disorders, Family Medicine


This post was written based on an appearance by Jeremy Wilson, DO, PPG – General Surgery, on the program PBS Healthline.

Everyone experiences acid reflux from time to time—maybe after a spicy or particularly rich meal. This occasional acid reflux can be managed at home with over-the-counter medications. However, if you have frequently recurring reflux, that is a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD and is worth mentioning to your primary care physician.

What is GERD?

GERD is the medical term for chronic acid reflux. Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid repeatedly flows back up into your esophagus from your stomach. This reflux can irritate the lining of your esophagus. If you are experiencing acid reflux or heartburn more than two times per week, that is typically classified as GERD. It is a very common condition that affects people of all ages from infants to adults.

Symptoms of GERD

  • Heartburn or a burning feeling.
  • Regurgitation. Liquids or food backwashing from your stomach into your throat after eating.
  • Chest pain. Sometimes the esophagus can spasm creating a feeling that mimics a heart attack.
  • Feeling a lump in your throat.
  • Chronic cough.
  • Frequently throat clearing.
  • Voice changes or a hoarse voice.
  • Worsening asthma or COPD.

Complications of GERD

Leaving your chronic acid reflux untreated can lead to complications including:

  • Esophagitis or inflammation of the lining of the esophagus
  • Barrett’s esophagus, where the tissue at the base of your esophagus thickens to be like the lining of your intestines. This can be a risk factor for esophageal cancer.
  • Esophageal cancer (adenocarcinoma)

Treatments for GERD

Treatment for GERD typically starts with lifestyle changes to reduce the amount you experience acid reflux. These adjustments are then often paired with medications. Starting with over-the-counter antacids and then moving into higher strength proton pump inhibitors. 

Lifestyle changes can be effective at reducing symptoms. Those with GERD should avoid smoking and try to maintain a healthy weight. Monitoring your diet for reflux triggers and avoiding common triggering foods can also help.

Common foods that trigger reflux:

  • Spicy foods
  • Tomatoes
  • Caffeine
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Chocolate
  • Mint
  • Onions
  • Garlic

If the first course of treatment isn’t working, your provider may refer you to have an endoscopy to check for complications like Barrett’s esophagus or other issues like ulcers or a hiatal hernia (a portion of the stomach pushed through an opening in the diaphragm).

On rare occasions, if none of these treatments is helping, a patient may be referred for surgery to treat GERD. These surgeries are typically a last resort and can have some difficult side effects so they are only done when absolutely necessary.

When to talk to your provider

If you are experiencing chest pain, visit an emergency room right away. If you notice that you are having trouble swallowing or painful swallowing, especially if accompanied with unintended weight loss, you should call your provider right away. If you are having recurring acid reflux or heartburn, it’s a good idea to bring it up to your primary care provider at your next appointment.

If you need help scheduling an appointment or establishing care with a provider, our Access Center can help. Call any time, at 877-PPG-TODAY or 877-774-8632 for assistance.


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