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Gastroesophageal reflux disease


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which food or liquid travels backwards from the stomach to the esophagus (the tube from the mouth to the stomach). This action can irritate the esophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms.

Alternative Names

Peptic esophagitis; Reflux esophagitis; GERD; Heartburn - chronic


Gastroesophageal reflux is a common condition that often occurs without symptoms after meals. In some people, the reflux is related to a problem with the lower esophageal sphincter, a band of muscle fibers that usually closes off the esophagus from the stomach. If this sphincter doesn't close properly, food and liquid can move backward into the esophagus and may cause the symptoms.

The risk factors for reflux include hiatal hernia, pregnancy, and scleroderma.


  • Heartburn
    • Involves a burning pain in the chest (under the breastbone)
    • Increased by bending, stooping, lying down, or eating
    • Relieved by antacids
    • More frequent or worse at night
  • Belching
  • Regurgitation of food
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vomiting blood
  • Hoarseness or change in voice
  • Sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Cough or wheezing

Exams and Tests

  • A positive stool guaiac
  • Continuous esophageal pH monitoring showing reflux
  • Endoscopy showing ulceration or inflammation of the esophagus
  • Esophageal manometry showing abnormal sphincter pressure
  • A barium swallow showing reflux
  • A positive Bernstein test for gastric acid reflux


General measures include:

  • Weight reduction
  • Avoiding lying down after meals
  • Sleeping with the head of the bed elevated
  • Taking medication with plenty of water
  • Avoiding dietary fat, chocolate, caffeine, peppermint (they may cause lower esophageal pressure)
  • Avoiding alcohol and tobacco
Medications that alleviate symptoms include:
  • Antacids after meals and at bedtime
  • Histamine H2 receptor blockers
  • Promotility agents
  • Proton pump inhibitors
Anti-reflux operations (Nissen fundoplication) may help a small number of patients who have persistent symptoms despite medical treatment. There are also new therapies that can be performed through an endoscope (a flexible tube passed through the mouth into the stomach) for reflux.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The majority of people respond to nonsurgical measures with behavioral modification and medications.

Possible Complications

  • Inflammation of the esophagus
  • Stricture
  • Esophageal ulcer
  • Hoarseness, bronchospasm
  • Chronic pulmonary disease
  • Barrett's esophagus (a change in the lining of the esophagus that can increase the risk of cancer)

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if symptoms worsen or do not improve with lifestyle changes or medication.


Avoid foods and activities that worsen symptoms. Maintain a healthy weight.

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