GERD: Everything You Need to Know

Amy Barczy

| 3 min read

Amy Barczy is a brand journalist at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and writes for AHealthierMichigan.org and MIBluesPerspectives.com. Prior to joining Blue Cross, she was a statewide news reporter for MLive.com. She has a decade of storytelling experience in local news media markets including Lansing, Grand Rapids, Holland, Ann Arbor and Port Huron.

Experts believe about 20% of people in the U.S. have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. It’s a severe, long-lasting condition that causes repeated symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux.
You may know gastroesophageal reflux by another name, including heartburn, acid reflux or acid indigestion. This condition, when it becomes chronic and severe, can have complications beyond needing an antacid like Tums or PeptoBismol after dinner every night.

Symptoms of GERD

For adults, GERD can appear in different ways. Some of the most common symptoms include:
  • Coughing
  • Feeling like food is caught in the throat
  • Heartburn after eating, which may worsen at night or when lying town
  • Hoarseness
  • Pain in the chest or upper abdomen
  • Problems swallowing
  • Regurgitation where food or sour liquid enters the mouth from your throat
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting
For children and infants, GERD can also be an issue. Here are some common symptoms:
  • Bad breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty sleeping after eating, especially for infants
  • Excessive crying or not wanting to eat
  • Feeling they’re being choked
  • Frequent episodes of vomiting
  • Frequent sour acid taste, especially when lying down
  • Hoarseness

Causes of GERD

GERD occurs when stomach acid flows in the wrong direction from the stomach back up the esophagus and into the mouth. This is caused by a weak or relaxed valve where the esophagus meets the stomach. The stomach’s acid can irritate the throat.
While acid reflux is common in most adults from time to time, when the issue becomes chronic and repeated, it can cause GERD. Infants and children can also develop GERD.
Causes of GERD in adults can include:
  • A hiatal hernia
  • Certain medications
  • Pressure on the abdomen, including pregnancy
  • Some foods, including dairy, spicy or fried foods, and eating habits

Heartburn vs. GERD

Heartburn is a symptom of GERD. Heartburn is very common in many adults. It’s described as an uncomfortable feeling of burning or pain in the chest, that can move up to the neck and throat. Over the counter medication can help manage symptoms of heartburn.
However, chronic heartburn should be addressed with a health care provider, as you may have GERD.

Treating and managing GERD

While GERD is not life-threatening, over time it can cause lasting damage to the throat and lead to more serious health concerns. Talking with a health care provider is important to determine if your acid reflux is chronic or not. For some adults, GERD can be managed through a combination of diet and medications. Health care providers can help advise on a treatment plan that’s right for you. In certain cases, testing and surgery are available. 
In children and infants, GERD can affect their ability to grow and gain weight if left unchecked. Talk with your pediatrician about your concerns and how best to help your child manage their symptoms. They may suggest changing formulas or avoiding certain foods, medications and body positioning as first steps.

Preventing GERD symptoms

Some strategies to help prevent GERD symptoms may include:
  • Achieve a healthy weight
  • Avoid clothes that are tight on the abdomen and belly
  • Avoid foods that trigger heartburn
  • Eat small meals frequently during the day rather than large meals
  • Go to bed three hours after eating
  • Put wooden blocks under the bedposts at the head of the bed to raise it six to eight inches
  • Sit or stand for 45 to 60 minutes after eating
  • Sit upright while eating
  • Stop smoking
  • Take prescriptions and medications as directed by a provider
Photo credit: Getty Images

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