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What is Silent GERD?

By Sarah Sullins
Updated: May 17, 2024

Those who have silent GERD do not have the typical symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Instead of experiencing the normal heartburn that is associated with this condition, people with silent GERD have other symptoms that they do not recognize as being a part of acid reflux. For this reason, such people may have to take part in several tests before getting a diagnosis of GERD.

Every person creates a certain amount of hydrochloric acid. This type of acid helps a person digest foods in the stomach, and, when everything in the body is normal, it stays in the stomach or travels downward, where it is diluted and digested. With GERD, the hydrochloric acid travels up into the lower esophagus, causing heartburn. At times, the acid will even enter the mouth, often leaving a sour taste.

With silent reflux, no heartburn is felt as the acid comes up into the esophagus. Instead, symptoms like hoarseness, sore throat, and trouble breathing are experienced. The acid that comes up into the mouth can eat away at the enamel on a person’s teeth, making them weak, discolored, and sometimes causing them to fall out. Those who have asthma and silent GERD may find that their asthma symptoms become worse because the acid has irritated their throats and made it difficult to breathe.

Many of the symptoms of silent GERD are not typical of acid reflux disease, so people that have them do not realize that it is GERD that they are experiencing. People with silent GERD may find that they frequently have sinus trouble after doing something that requires bending over. In reality, bending over allows the hydrochloric acid to more easily come up into the esophagus. Due to the esophagus’s close proximity to it, the nose defends itself by creating mucus, often resulting in a stuffy or runny nose.

Due to the fact that no heartburn is experienced, a doctor will most likely have to perform a couple of tests to diagnosis a person with GERD. He may monitor the pH level in a person’s esophagus, or he may place a person on a proton pump inhibitor, which lowers the amount of acid in the stomach. A doctor might also do an endoscopy, or have an x-ray done after a person has swallowed some barium. These types of tests usually help to diagnose silent GERD.

Treatment is usually the same for silent GERD as it is for regular GERD. Antacids and H2 blockers may be taken over-the-counter or may be prescribed by a doctor. A proton pump inhibitor, which may have been used for silent GERD testing, may be continued to help reduce the amount of acid coming up into a person’s esophagus.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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