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Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/Heartburn

Regular heartburn is the main symptom of GERD. Heartburn is a feeling of burning behind the breastbone. It can occur at anytime but is often aggravated by overeating or lying down after a big meal. Many also have regurgitation, a feeling of food and fluid moving back up the throat or into the mouth.

Heartburn
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The fluids from the stomach can cause:

  • Sour or bitter taste in the back of mouth or throat
  • Feeling of a lump in the throat
  • Burping
  • Bloating
  • Bad breath

The regular reflux of stomach acid can cause irritation of the tissue and other structures of the throat. This irritation can lead to other symptoms, such as:

  • Sore throat
  • Hoarse voice
  • Chronic cough
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Excessive clearing of throat

Infants with GERD may also have recurrent vomiting. This can affect their ability to get proper nutrition and slow growth and development.

The muscles of the esophagus can tighten or spasm. This can cause pain that radiates through the chest and back, similar to how heart attack may feel. Do not assume that chest pain is GERD or indigestion. If you have chest pains or other symptoms of a possible heart attack, call for emergency medical services right away.

Long-term complications of GERD may include:

  • Inflammation of the esphagus—esophagitis
  • Bleeding and ulcers in the esophagus
  • Dental problems, which may occur because of the effect of stomach acid on tooth enamel
  • Chronic laryngitis
  • Asthma attacks
  • Aspiration pneumonia—during sleep acid refluxes from the stomach into the throat, then drains into the lungs, causing irritation
  • A precancerous condition that can lead to esophageal cancer—Barrett’s esophagus
  • Esophageal cancer

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
  • Review Date: 03/2014 -
  • Update Date: 02/27/2015 -
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 19, 2015. Accessed February 27, 2015.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The Merck Manual Professional Edition. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal%5Fdisorders/esophageal%5Fand%5Fswallowing%5Fdisorders/gastroesophageal%5Freflux%5Fdisease%5Fgerd.html. Updated May 2014. Accessed February 27, 2015.

  • Katz PO, Gerson LB, et al. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108(3):302-328.

  • Mitre MC, Katzka DA. Pathophysiology of GERD: Lower esophageal sphincter defects. GERD in the 21st Century, Series 5. Practical Gastro website. Available at: http://www.practicalgastro.com/pdf/May04/MitreArticle.pdf. Published May 2004. Accessed February 27, 2015.

  • Symptoms and causes of gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/ger-and-gerd-in-adults/Pages/symptoms-causes.aspx. Accessed February 27, 2015.

  • Understanding heartburn and reflux disease. American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/heartburn-gerd. Accessed February 27, 2015.