Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a disease in which the stomach contents (e.g., acid) flow backwards into the esophagus – the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. This can cause irritation of the esophagus and lead to what is commonly referred to as heartburn. A ring of muscle at the end of the esophagus called the lower esophageal sphincter normally keeps stomach contents in place. When this ring of muscle does not close all the way, it leads to GERD. In addition to heartburn, symptoms of GERD include nausea after eating, hiccups and sore throat.
If symptoms are mild, testing may not be needed and diagnosis can be made based on the medical history. If symptoms are more severe, a healthcare provider may recommend an upper endoscopy to examine the lining of the esophagus, stomach and the first part of the small intestine. Esophageal manometry may also be performed to measure the pressure in the esophagus, and a stool occult blood test may diagnose bleeding caused from excessive irritation.
Making certain lifestyle changes to lose weight or avoid certain medications that can lead to irritation can relieve symptoms of GERD. Over-the-counter or prescription antacids can also be used to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach. Surgery is reserved for those with severe disease.