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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Signs and Symptoms,Treatment,Complications

Written by
Dr. Lekshmi R. Venugopal
and medically reviewed by iCliniq medical review team.

Published on Aug 15, 2017 and last reviewed on Jun 06, 2023   -  4 min read


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) results in heartburn, as the stomach acids regurgitate into the esophagus. Learn about its symptoms, risk factors, and treatment.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Signs and Symptoms,Treatment,Complications

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs due to the gastric acid refluxing back up the esophagus (food pipe).


  • Heartburn or pain in the chest or upper abdomen, which is more pronounced, on lying down with a full stomach.
  • Nausea.
  • Coughing and choking.
  • A hoarseness of voice.
  • A shortness of breath or asthma-like symptoms.
  • Persistent vomiting, difficulty and pain during swallowing, weight loss, and dark stools.

Risk Factors

  • A diet rich in fatty, sour, spicy and citrus foods.
  • Alcohol consumption and smoking.
  • Obesity.
  • Eating large portions of food in a single meal.
  • Connective tissue disorders like scleroderma.
  • A hiatal hernia: the upward outpouching of the stomach through the diaphragm.


The management of GERD includes a combination of medications as well as diet and lifestyle modifications. You can avail your gerd medicine prescription easily with us at your convenience.

  • Avoid spicy, fatty, and fried foods as well as chocolates and carbonated drinks.
  • Avoid citrus-containing foods like tomatoes, oranges, and fruit juices.
  • Eat multiple small portions of food rather than three large meals.
  • Limit caffeine intake.
  • Have your dinner at least two hours before bedtime, so that your stomach is light before you go to bed.
  • Elevate the head end of the bed by placing wooden blocks under the bed post. Using extra pillows will not provide relief.
  • Avoid cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Medications that will help are antacids. They neutralize the stomach acid. H2 blockers block the action of histamine in the stomach cells, and proton pump inhibitors decrease the stomach acid production.
  • Endoscopic, laparoscopic or open surgical procedures are indicated for GERD if it does not respond to treatment, or in the case of a severe erosive esophagitis, Barrett's esophagus, esophageal adenocarcinoma or associated hiatal hernia.


The Need for Endoscopy

GERD is diagnosed with the patient's symptoms and the positive response to treatment. An endoscopic evaluation is not necessary unless in the following situations:

  • Symptoms that are persistent or progressive despite appropriate medical therapy.
  • Dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing) or odynophagia (pain during swallowing) or persistent vomiting.
  • Unintentional weight loss.
  • The evidence of gastrointestinal bleeding like black discoloration of stool or hematemesis (vomiting of blood).
  • Symptoms of anemia like dizziness, fatigue, palpitations, etc.
  • Screening for Barrett’s esophagus in high-risk patients. White men above 50 years of age, a positive family history of Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal adenocarcinoma, prolonged reflux symptoms (persisting for five years or more), persons with a smoking habit, and obesity.
  • Placement of pH monitoring, manometric studies to confirm the diagnosis when an adequate response is not obtained from the treatment.
  • Before doing an anti-reflux surgery.

Complications of GERD

  • Erosive esophagitis -Inflammation and erosion of the esophageal epithelium due to acid damage. Appropriate management of GERD can prevent the development and progression of erosive esophagitis.
  • Esophageal stricture - Strictures are caused due to a scar formation during the healing process of erosive esophagitis. Such strictures cause a block in the esophagus resulting in difficulty in swallowing, pain during eating and persistent vomiting. It is treated with endoscopic dilation of the stricture.
  • Barrett's esophagus - Barrett's esophagus is the change of esophageal epithelium from a stratified squamous type to the columnar epithelium type with glandular cells. This change in epithelium occurs due to an acid damage. When dysplastic or precancerous changes occur in Barrett's esophagus, it acts as a precursor for esophageal cancer (adenocarcinoma). GERD patients with risk factors for Barrett's esophagus will require an endoscopy and biopsy to assess the degree of damage and change in the epithelium and the presence of dysplastic cells which are precursors for adenocarcinoma. Depending on the endoscopy and biopsy findings, further management is by either serial endoscopic surveillance, endoscopic ablation with laser, radio frequency, or cryotherapy. An endoscopic mucosal resection or surgical resection is done if found to be positive for cancer cells.
  • Esophageal adenocarcinoma - Dysplastic changes occurring in Barrett's esophagus act as a precursor for the development of adenocarcinoma. So, it is essential to appropriately manage GERD, prevent the development of Barrett's esophagus and carry out an endoscopic evaluation and surveillance in high-risk patients.

For more information consult a GERD specialist online -->

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Various Causes of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?

The following are the various causes that could result in gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Obesity.
- Intake of a heavy meal followed by lying on your back or bending below.
- Eating before bedtime or lying down immediately after a meal.
- Intake of certain drugs such as Aspirin or Ibuprofen, some muscle relaxants, and certain antihypertensive medications.


Is It Possible to Cure GERD Permanently?

Yes, early diagnosis and treatment can permanently cure gastroesophageal reflux disease. A permanent cure is possible for young adults. If it is left untreated, the condition can cause permanent damage to the esophagus. One of the most common complications of gastroesophageal reflux disease is something called Barrett's esophagus. This condition can even progress to cancer of the esophagus.


What Foods Should I Avoid When I Have GERD?

The following are foods that you should avoid if you are diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Foods that are rich in fat content. This is because fried foods can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to dilate more than the required amount.
- This leads to the accumulation of excess stomach acid (HCL). This accumulated acid will enter into the esophagus.
- Tomatoes.
- Citrus fruit like oranges.
- Garlic.
- Onions.
- Spicy foods.
- Caffeine and carbonated beverages.
- Mint.


Is GERD Curable?

The factors determining the treatment outcome in a gastroesophageal reflux disease are
the patient's age, severity, and comorbidities. The condition is easily curable when the patient is an adult, and proper medical attention is given. However, it can become a problem if it is not treated. This is because hydrochloric acid reflux damages the tissue lining the esophagus, leading to severe inflammation and pain. In adults, chronic, untreated gastroesophageal reflux disease can cause permanent damage to the esophagus, and sometimes even tumors can arise.


Is It Possible to Cure GERD Naturally?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) cannot be treated naturally. However, specific lifestyle changes can help in reducing the severity and symptoms of the condition. They are as follows.
- Avoiding the triggers of reflux.
- Avoiding spicy food.
- Sleeping in an elevated bed.
- Taking proper treatment and regular follow up.
- Eating fiber-rich food.


What Is the Best Treatment for GERD?

The following are the best medications available to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Antacids.
- Histamine blockers.
- Proton pump inhibitors like Omeprazole.
- Prokinetic agents.
However, it is essential to note that these drugs are unsafe without proper medical advice and can lead to potential side effects.


How Long Should I Take GERD Treatment?

To reduce gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms, potential acid suppression therapy must be given to the patient at least for two or eight weeks. It would help if you continued until healing improves. You should discuss with the doctor regarding the duration of GERD treatment.


How Long Will I Need to Take Omeprazole for GERD?

The first line of treatment for adults who are diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease is 20 milligrams (mg) of Omeprazole once a day before the intake of food. It has to be taken at least eight weeks. For children, the dose and duration of treatment are primarily based on body weight.


What Are the Most Common Symptoms of GERD?

The following are the frequently seen symptoms in patients who are diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease.
A burning sensation in the upper part of the abdomen and chest, especially after eating. It might be especially worse at night.
- Chest pain.
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Reflux of food.
- The frequent feeling of sour liquid in the mouth.
- Lump in the throat.


How to Identify GERD in Babies?

Identifying gastroesophageal reflux disease in babies can be quite complex. However, a doctor will diagnose your baby with gastroesophageal reflux disease if he or she has the following symptoms.
- Spitting up milk or foods and vomiting.
- Reluctant to eat and taking excessive time to eat and swallow.
- Irritability during feeding.
- Wet burps.
- Hiccups.
- Frequent episodes of cough or recurrent pneumonia.
- Choking.


Is It Possible to Cure GERD With Diet?

Unfortunately, there is no diet until today to prevent or treat gastroesophageal reflux disease. However, avoiding certain spicy foods and meat may reduce the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease in some people. Also, increased fiber intake, like fruits and vegetables, may prevent gastroesophageal reflux disease.


Can I Diagnose GERD at Home?

No, you can not definitively diagnose gastroesophageal reflux disease at home. You can only note its symptoms. To diagnose it, proper medical consultation is required. It will involve the following.
Thorough and focused medical history taking and physical examination.
- Upper endoscopy.
- Ambulatory acid (pH) probe test.
- Esophageal manometry.
- X-ray of your upper gastrointestinal tract.


How Can I Relieve GERD Pain?

The following are specific lifestyle changes and remedies that can help to cope up with the pain caused by gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
- Quit smoking and alcohol.
- Elevate the head of your bed, which can prevent acid easily refluxing through your esophagus.
- Do not lie down after the intake of food.
- Eat your food slowly and chew it thoroughly well.
- Avoid foods and drinks such as chocolate and coffee that trigger reflux.
- Avoid heavy meals.


What Are the Symptoms That Differentiate Gerd From Chest Pain?

If the patient is suffering from an acute episode of chest pain, he or she might experience the following symptoms and the common symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Tightness in the center of the chest.
- A feeling of heaviness in one or both arms.
- Pain that radiates to the arms, neck, jaw, lips.
- Shortness of breath.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Dizziness.
- Loss of appetite.
- Profuse sweating.


What Type of Health Issues Can Lead to the Development of GERD?

The most common conditions seen in patients that can increase their chances of developing gastroesophageal reflux disease include the following.
- Obesity.
- Pregnancy.
- Hiatal hernia.


Does GERD Affect the Teeth?

Yes, gastroesophageal reflux disease can affect your teeth. Sometimes, the first clinical indication that a person may have gastroesophageal reflux disease is the enamel's erosion. This symptom is seen prominently on the molar teeth.


Can Milk Relieve GERD Symptoms?

Yes, it is a fact that milk can temporarily control the activity of stomach acid. However, the nutrients in milk, especially the fats present in it, stimulates the stomach to secrete more acid. These patients might consume fat-free milk to a limited extent.


What Are the Probiotics That Can Prevent GERD?

Probiotic supplements that contain Lactobacillus acidophilus are frequently used for symptoms such as stomach burn and other gastric problems such as diarrhea and constipation. The bacteria in probiotics are "gut-friendly" and help maintain a balance in the digestive system between good and harmful bacteria.


Is GERD a Cause of Esophageal Cancer?

Yes, chronic untreated gastroesophageal reflux disease can be a cause of esophageal cancer. This risk is significantly higher in people who have more frequent episodes. However, GERD is very common, and not all people who have it develop esophageal cancer. The most common complication of GERD that leads to cancer development in the esophagus is Barrett's esophagus.


Why Does Gerd Cause Difficulty in Breathing?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease causes difficulty breathing because stomach acid that refluxes into the lower esophagus can sometimes enter the lungs. This occurs mainly when a person is sleeping. This can cause inflammation of the airways. This can be a potential cause of aspiration pneumonia.


Does Constipation Aggravate the Symptoms of GERD?

Yes, constipation can cause symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease. On the other hand, the drugs used in the treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease can also cause constipation. In these cases, prokinetic agents such as lactulose are given to relieve constipation.


Can Chocolate GERD Symptoms?

Yes, chocolate causes gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms. Cocoa makes the intestinal cells relax the lower esophageal sphincter. This leads to the release of a surge of serotonin. When this muscle relaxes, gastric contents can reflux through the sphincter. This causes a burning sensation in the upper abdomen. Chocolate also contains caffeine and theobromine, which can aggravate the symptoms.


What Foods Can a GERD Patient Eat?

The following are the list of foods that a person affected with gastroesophageal reflux disease can eat.
- Fresh green vegetables.
- Ginger.
- Oatmeal.
- Non-citrus fruits like mangoes and bananas.
- Egg white.

Last reviewed at:
06 Jun 2023  -  4 min read




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