Gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD is a condition when the lower esophageal sphincter or LES spontaneously opens for periods of time. It may also occur when the LES does not close properly, thereby allowing contents of the stomach to rise up into the esophagus. GERD is also known as acid reflux because, most of the time, acids from the stomach also rise up with the food. The LES is the part of the esophagus that functions as the connection between the esophagus and the stomach. Together with the diaphragm, it works as a barrier to prevent the contents of the stomach from going back up into the esophagus. When the LES is relaxed or is compromised, acid reflux happens.
GERD is, in fact, a disease. Here are the symptoms of this disease.
- Heartburn. This is the burning sensation that one feels in the esophagus when the foods and acids from the stomach rise up. Although the condition does not really affect the heart, it’s called as such because the burning sensation is felt in the chest near the heart. This is commonly felt by people who burp after taking a heavy meal. It is often disregarded as not being a symptom of any disease, which may be the case in some situations. However, frequent heartburn means only one thing, and that is having gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Tissue Damage. Repeated reflux of acids up into the esophagus can literally burn it and cause tissue damage. When GERD comes with tissue damage, it becomes categorized as erosive GERD or esophagitis. Non-evasive GERD is the type that comes with heartburn and other symptoms except tissue damage.
- Belching/Burping. Belching is the natural reflex of our stomach to push out air from within it and out through the mouth. People suffering from GERD belch not only the air but also the acids and some food particles out of the stomach.
- Chest Pains. Pains may indicate acid reflux, as it is the reason why the condition is commonly called “heartburn”. However, possible heart problems should be ruled out first. Chest pains from GERD would be accompanied with a burning sensation in the throat.
- Water Brash. It is the bitter taste at the back of the throat that is brought about by the regurgitation of the acids from the stomach to the esophagus. Water brash may also cause a sour taste in the throat and bad breath.
- Dysphagia. It is the feeling that food is stuck in the esophagus. It may actually be food that becomes stuck after an acid reflux attack. This may also be associated with the type of GERD where heartburn is not felt.
- Sore Throat. Patients with GERD may suffer from frequent sore throats or hoarseness, especially in the morning as a result of acid reflux.
There is a small population of GERD patients who are identified as having the pre-cancerous condition called Barret’s Esophagus. This is a condition wherein the normal tissues that should be lining the esophagus become replaced with abnormal tissue linings. GERD patients should seek medical advice to rule out this condition.