What Is GERD? - Definition, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Lynee Carter
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a medical condition that effects the esophagus. When stomach contents travel back into the esophagus it can produce a burning sensation in the chest.


When you eat, food travels from your mouth through your esophagus and reaches a door-like structure called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). This structure opens to allow food into the stomach and closes to keep stomach contents from entering the esophagus.

In gastroesophageal testinal reflux disease (GERD), the LES does not work properly, leading to stomach contents traveling back into the esophagus. This is called acid reflux, also known as heartburn. Unlike the stomach, which has a protective lining, the esophagus can get irritated when coming in contact with the stomach acid.


There are situations that can effect how the LES functions. Foods such as chocolate, caffeine and peppermint, when in the stomach, can cause the LES to open back up. Laying on the back and side, bending over and lifting heavy objects after eating can prevent the LES from closing properly. People who are pregnant, obese and wear tight clothing can put pressure on their abdomen, which can also cause the LES to open up when it should be closed.

Some behaviors contribute to the risk of getting GERD. They include smoking, drinking alcohol and consuming large meals frequently. Taking certain medications that treat other medical conditions can have side effects that increase stomach acid. So can eating foods that are spicy, citrus-y, fried and fatty.

Some medical problems can also lead to GERD. Long periods of heartburn not only produces discomfort but irritates the esophagus, which can be damaging. A hiatal hernia is a condition where part of the upper stomach protrudes above the diaphragm, the muscular structure that separates the organs in the chest from those in the abdomen. It can prevent the LES from working properly, leading to increased reflux found in GERD.




The most common feeling a person with GERD experiences is a persistent burning sensation in the chest. This usually occurs 30 minutes to an hour after eating food and can last for two hours. The pain can spread to the throat and jaw. Some people describe it as a gnawing pain or uncomfortable feeling of fullness in the upper part of their abdomen.


GERD can cause some of the stomach contents to go all the way through the esophagus and back into the mouth. This occurs more often when someone is laying down, bending over or belching. A bitter or sour taste is left in the mouth. It also can be followed by vomiting, where the stomach contents comes fully out of the mouth. This is more likely to occur in children.

Throat Problems

People with GERD may complain of having throat problems. They can have difficulty swallowing or feel like a lump is in their throat. When this happens they may cough frequently or feel the urge to clear the throat. Complaints of a sore throat can occur as well as hoarseness when talking.



Lifestyle Changes

There are several lifestyle changes that can help relieve the pain that GERD produces:

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