GERD: signs, symptoms and complications


Heartburn and acid regurgitation are the main symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), although some people have GERD without heartburn. Other symptoms include chest and / or abdominal pain, difficulty swallowing, dry cough, hoarseness, nausea, vomiting, halitosis, wheezing, and interrupted sleep.

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Frequent symptoms

Whether you have heartburn or not, if you have GERD, you are likely experiencing some or all of these common symptoms. even:

  • Acid Reflux: You may feel a burning sensation in your chest and / or abdomen, and taste stomach acid when combined with any food you've just eaten , especially in the back of your throat. This is because the valve between the stomach and the esophagus that carries food from the mouth to the stomach does not close properly and allows stomach contents to move in the wrong direction, back into the mouth.
  • Chest or abdominal pain – Usually begins behind the breastbone or breastbone, can spread to the throat, and spread to the back. You may also feel pain in your upper or middle abdomen. The pain usually appears shortly after eating and can last from a few minutes to several hours. It is important to remember that sometimes the pain of a heart attack can be mistaken for the burning pain of GERD, and it is always important to seek medical attention if there is any doubt about the origin of the chest pain.
  • Hoarseness – Irritation caused by stomach acid buildup in the throat can lead to hoarseness or laryngitis, especially in the morning.
  • Difficulty swallowing : Difficulty swallowing, known as dysphagia , occurs when food does not pass normally from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach. There may be a sensation of food stuck in the throat, chest tightness or a burning sensation after eating , or a choking sensation. Difficulty swallowing can be a sign of a variety of conditions, including erosive esophagitis and esophageal cancer, and should always be evaluated by a doctor.
  • Incessant dry cough: When refluxing stomach acid is breathed in, coughing can occur. This cough can also cause a sore throat.
  • Bad breath: This can occur when stomach acid enters the throat and mouth.
  • Wheezing: You may find it difficult to breathe and you may hear a wheezing sound when you breathe.
  • Nausea or vomiting: GERD can also cause nausea and / or regurgitation, which can lead to tooth wear due to acid entering the stomach.
  • Sleep problems: GERD can interrupt your sleep if symptoms bother you.

Symptoms in the elderly

Elderly patients may not associate their symptoms with heartburn or GERD as they may differ from what is considered typical for this condition. Usually when we think of GERD symptoms, we think of heartburn. In older people, symptoms usually appear in the mouth, throat, or lungs.

Symptoms that can occur in the throat include:

Older patients with certain chronic diseases are at increased risk of developing GERD. They may be taking medications that make the NPS relax, which can lead to acid reflux . These people also tend to have lower saliva production, which is problematic because the alkaline nature of saliva can help neutralize acid. Saliva can also relieve heartburn by bathing the esophagus, which helps protect it from acid that refluxes and returns it to the stomach.

Less common symptoms

These symptoms are certainly not as common as those listed above, but they are worth knowing about so that you can report them to your healthcare provider if they arise. They do not have to be associated with GERD.

  • Frequent Sore Throat – When stomach contents come back up the throat, it can cause irritation and a sore throat.
  • Breathing problems like asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, or wheezing – Several studies show a significant link between GERD and asthma , chronic cough, and other lung conditions.
  • Hoarsely. Throat irritation is a common cause of chronic hoarseness (laryngitis) in adults.


Regardless of your age, if you experience heartburn two or more times a week, take note. This constant movement of acidic stomach contents into the esophagus can irritate the lining and complications can occur at any age if left untreated .

Barrett's esophagus

Barrett's esophagus is a condition in which the esophagus, the muscular tube that carries food and saliva from the mouth to the stomach, changes so that part of its mucous membrane is replaced by tissue similar to that normally found in the stomach. intestines . This acid reflux complication does not have any specific symptoms, just the usual symptoms of GERD.

People with Barrett's disease are 30 to 125 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than those without it, but less than 1 percent of patients with Barrett's esophagus develop this cancer. However, if you are diagnosed with Barrett's esophagus, it is important to have regular screening tests, usually an upper endoscopic exam and biopsy , to detect precancerous and cancerous cells.

When it comes to treating Barrett's esophagus , conventional measures to reduce GERD symptoms, such as lifestyle, diet, and medications, can help ease discomfort. When it comes to treating the disease, there is currently no cure for this.

Carcinoma of the esophagus

GERD is one of the risk factors for developing esophageal cancer . Esophageal cancer tumors begin to grow in the lining of the esophagus, and if it grows large enough to break through the wall of the esophagus, it can spread to other parts of your body through the lymphatic system. as your transportation.

Symptoms of esophageal cancer

  • Difficulty and / or pain when swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Unexplained weight loss

If you experience any of these symptoms of esophageal cancer combined with acid reflux, speak with your gastroenterologist. There are several treatment options available .

Erosive esophagitis

When your esophagus becomes inflamed and swollen, it is called esophagitis. Acid reflux is the most likely cause, although it can also be an infection. Symptoms of esophagitis include pain when swallowing and a burning sensation in the esophagus.

Treatment of esophagitis depends on the cause. Medications such as proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers may be prescribed if esophagitis is a complication of acid reflux. Antibiotics may be prescribed if an infection is the cause of esophagitis.

Esophageal strictures

A complication of prolonged acid reflux can be an esophageal stricture or a gradual narrowing of the esophagus, which can lead to difficulty swallowing. One of the causes of esophageal strictures can be scar tissue that accumulates in the esophagus. When the lining of the esophagus is damaged, such as acid reflux occurs over a long period of time, scars can develop. Other causes of strictures can include infections and ingestion of corrosive substances.

Respiratory problems

Because GERD can inhale stomach acid into the lungs, which can then irritate the lungs and throat, breathing problems can occur . Some of these are both symptoms and complications and include:

  • Asthma, new or worse, if you already have it
  • Chest congestion
  • Dry cough
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Laryngitis or hoarseness of the voice.
  • Throat pain
  • Pneumonia
  • Wheezing

Night reflux

When symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occur at night, they can be more devastating than if they occurred during the day. The evening can set the stage for the following events, which can increase the likelihood of heartburn problems during the night:

  • Sleep on your back: Lying in bed, stomach acid can more easily enter the esophagus and stay there longer than when you are standing up. Even lifting the head and shoulders 6 to 8 inches. it will help keep stomach acid where it is needed.
  • Inability to drink or swallow every time an acid reflux episode occurs: When you have GERD and are awake during an acid reflux episode, you often rinse your mouth or drink some fluids. Even swallowing helps. When you sleep, when acid from reflux enters your esophagus or throat, you don't always notice it and therefore don't take steps to remove the acid.
  • Increased risk of suffocation due to reflux of stomach contents – If acid from reflux is in your throat and mouth, you can inhale it into your lungs. Once in the lungs, it can cause coughing and choking on aspirated material. Acid can also cause the same damage to the lungs as when it is released into the esophagus.

When to contact a healthcare provider

If you experience frequent and / or severe heartburn, make an appointment with your doctor. If you're taking over-the-counter heartburn medications like Prevacid or Prilosec more than twice a week, you should also talk to your doctor.

A Discussion Guide for a Healthcare Provider in GERD

Get our printed guide to your next doctor's appointment to help you ask the right questions.

Regardless of your age, see your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:

  • Vomiting in large quantities
  • Persistent, violent, or propellant vomiting
  • Vomiting that is green or yellow, bloody, or like coffee grounds.
  • Difficulty breathing after vomiting.
  • Sore throat or mouth when eating
  • Difficulty swallowing or pain when swallowing

Frequently asked questions

  • GERD symptoms, including heartburn, can last for several hours. GERD is a chronic form of acid reflux that tends to recur more than twice a week for several weeks or more. Acid reflux episodes will recur unless prevented with medication or lifestyle changes.

  • Your healthcare provider will recommend treatment based on your symptoms. This could include:

    • Diet and lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, cutting down on alcohol, and avoiding certain foods.
    • Medications such as antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors.
    • Surgery for cases that do not improve with lifestyle changes or medications.

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