Rick Alan and
Michael Jubinville, MPH
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder. It is the frequent incidence of acid reflux stomach, acid or other contents back up from the stomach into the esophagus. The esophagus is a tube that runs from the back of the mouth to the stomach. The reflux irritates the esophagus and over time, can cause permanent damage.
Heartburn, a burning feeling behind the breastbone, is the most common symptom of GERD. However, occasional or one time heartburn does not mean you have heartburn. GERD is the frequent occurrence of these symptoms, more than twice per week over several weeks. GERD will also have evidence of damage from the acid reflux.
The esophagus and stomach are designed to keep food flowing downward. A ring of muscle at the end of the esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), helps keep food in the stomach. The LES relaxes to let food pass into the stomach then closes shut to help keep contents in the stomach. Sometimes the LES does not close properly or relaxes at the wrong time. The stomach contracts and squeezes to help digest food and move it into the intestines. When the LES does not close properly the movement of the stomach can push stomach acid and other contents can leak back into the esophagus. The acid and contents can also move into the esophagus if you are lying down or bending over.
The stomach acid irritates the esophagus. For some the irritation may contribute to breathing difficulties such as wheezing, congestion, or damage to the voice. Over time, the acid wears away the lining of the esophagus and can lead to complications such as bleeding, narrowing, or inflammation of the esophagus. The damage may also increase the risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus.
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Last reviewed March 2014 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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