Definition and Facts

GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a common condition in which the stomach contents move up into the esophagus. This backwash of acid can irritate the lining of your esophagus, causing symptoms such as heartburn, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and a sour taste in your mouth. Over time, GERD can lead to complications such as esophagitis, Barrett's esophagus, and an increased risk of esophageal cancer. Reflux becomes a disease when it causes frequent or severe symptoms or injury. Researchers estimate that about 20% of people in the United States have GERD.

Who is more likely to have GERD?

Anyone can develop GERD. You are more likely to have GERD if you:

  • Are overweight or have obesity
  • Are a pregnant woman
  • Take certain medicines
  • Smoke or are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke


  • Heartburn, a painful, burning feeling in the middle of your chest
  • Regurgitation, or stomach contents coming back up through your esophagus and into your throat or mouth, which may cause you to taste food or stomach acid

Other symptoms may include:

  • Non-burning chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Problems swallowing or pain while swallowing
  • Symptoms of complications in the mouth, throat or lungs, such as chronic cough or hoarseness


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is primarily caused by the malfunction of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is a ring of muscle that acts as a valve between the esophagus and the stomach. Normally, the LES closes immediately after food passes through it to prevent stomach acid and digestive juices from flowing back into the esophagus. When the LES weakens or relaxes abnormally, it allows stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus, leading to GERD symptoms.


You may be able to manage symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux (GER) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) by making lifestyle changes or taking over-the-counter medicines. Doctors may recommend lifestyle changes, medicines, surgery, or a combination of these treatments.​

Eating, Diet and Nutrition

To reduce gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) symptoms, your doctor may recommend weight loss if you are overweight or have obesity, eating meals 2 to 3 hours before you lie down, and avoiding foods and drinks that make your symptoms worse.​


Kumkum Patel MD, MPH

Board-certified Gastroenterologist.
IBS and Motility Specialist

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