What is GERD?

Nearly a third of all Americans experience heartburn about once a month. View of a normal lower esophageal sphincter

Heartburn — also known as acid indigestion, acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux (GER) — occurs when stomach acid backs up, or refluxes, into the esophagus, the narrow passageway that carries food to the stomach.

When it occurs infrequently, acid reflux is nothing to worry about. Taking an antacid and avoiding foods that trigger the reaction can provide relief.

Intense heartburn at least once or twice a week is another matter.

Persistent exposure to stomach acid can evolve into gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. People with GERD can experience heartburn, regurgitation, vomiting and pain when swallowing. View of a weakened lower esophageal sphincter

GERD usually occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter — the valve linking the esophagus and the stomach — relaxes or becomes too weak to prevent stomach contents from surging up the esophagus.

Long-term exposure to stomach acids can damage the esophageal lining, a condition called Barrett's esophagus, which is a precursor to esophageal cancer and should be treated as soon as possible.

People of all ages can develop GERD, even infants and children — many of them for reasons that are unclear.

View a video illustration of acid reflux




Other factors that can contribute to developing GERD include:

  • Asthma medications, antihistamines, pain relievers, sedatives, antidepressants and calcium channel blockers
  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke
  • Congenital abnormalities

A hiatal hernia can also cause acid reflux. This type of hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm, a sheet of muscle that separates the stomach from the chest. Learn more about UCI Health hernia services ›

Lifestyle and dietary changes, along with medications, are usually the first line of treatment. If antacids and prescription medications no longer relieve your heartburn, our UCI Health esophageal disease specialists may recommend other options, including incision-less or minimally invasive procedures.

Get relief for your acid reflux. Call 888-717-4463 to schedule a consultation.

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