The most common gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms are heartburn, the feeling of food trapped in the throat and nausea. Among the other most common GERD symptoms are chest pain, especially when lying down; hoarseness or a sore throat; bitter or acidic taste in the mouth; difficulty swallowing; dry cough and frequent burping. People who experience any of the most common GERD symptoms three or more times per week, especially after meals, might have gastroesophageal reflux disease.
GERD is also known as acid reflux disease, gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) or gastric reflux disease. It is defined by the chronic persistence of heartburn or damage to the esophagus caused by an abnormal reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus. The stomach acid is what causes the most common GERD symptoms, such as heartburn, hoarseness and sore throat.
What causes the stomach acid to stray from its normal course and enter the esophagus is damage to the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Normally, food travels from the mouth, through the esophagus and then through the LES to the stomach, where it is digested. The LES is a group of muscles that open to let food in and then close. In someone who has GERD, the LES doesn’t always close back. If it is weak, it occasionally will relax when it shouldn’t, and that is when the acid can go back up the esophagus and into the throat.
Anyone who has experienced even the most common GERD symptoms more than three times a week should consider speaking to a medical professional and making lifestyle changes. If untreated, acid reflux is constantly irritating the esophagus. This can lead to bleeding, problems breathing and trouble swallowing. Over time, this can also increase the chances of esophageal cancer.
For many people, lifestyle changes can prevent many of the most common GERD symptoms. It is recommended that people with acid reflux disease avoid drinking alcohol, caffeinated drinks, carbonated beverages and citrus fruits and juices. It also is recommended for them to stay away from chocolate, tomatoes, spicy or fatty foods, heavy dairy products and mint.
There are three main forms of drug treatments available to alleviate the most common GERD symptoms and to treat them long-term. These include antacids, histamine-2 (H2) blockers and proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Antacids are the most common and usually are readily available. They will treat heartburn, but it will come back again and does not allow the esophagus time to heal.
H2 blockers limit the amount of acid the stomach produces and can help the esophagus heal. H2 blockers take longer to affect stomach acid before they begin working. PPIs also take longer to work than antacids, but they completely block the production of acid in the stomach. Both medications have to be taken regularly to control acid reflux disease. They also are available over the counter and do not require a prescription.