What Are the Symptoms of GERD?
GERD is widespread enough to impact roughly 20 percent of the adult population in the U.S., but many remain unaware of what GERD is or the symptoms it causes. GERD is a condition that causes severe and often intense physical discomfort with acute or chronic symptoms.
Symptoms occur when the stomach contents force their way back up into the throat, esophagus and mouth. GERD is another name for gastroesophageal reflux disease, gastroesophageal reflux disorder, and reflux disease. Some are aware of their situation, while others are not aware. Some suffer from asymptomatic type GERD.
Symptoms of GERD
One of the biggest complaints about gastroesophageal reflux disease is the feeling of heartburn. Heartburn is best described as a warm, burning, or tight sensation in the chest. Heartburn can also cause pain. Occasional bouts of heartburn or reflux are common, but symptoms that keep occurring and are chronic are signs of disease or disorder, hence the term “gastroesophageal reflux disease.” The following symptoms are common in GERD patients.
- Acid reflux is the tart, bitter taste of food particles or gastric juices back flowing from the stomach. Symptoms are most likely to occur before and after meals. Acid reflux can also feel like burning or pain in the throat that occurs when speaking or swallowing.
- Some patients may experience pain that radiates to the ears. The contents that wash back into the throat and mouth are acidic and corrosive when outside the stomach. Periodic episodes often occur infrequently enough for healing to occur. However, some people experience this symptom daily or often enough that it becomes too painful to swallow or talk comfortably.
- Excessive spit or saliva in the mouth. The disease triggers an increase in saliva and digestive juices in the mouth. There’s also the combination of the acidic or bitter taste of refluxing gastric juices to consider.
- Chronic throat soreness is common with GERD. The harsh effects of reflux activity impair healing activity and keep the throat’s tissues inflamed and irritated, making pain more persistent.
- Coughing is often unpleasant and can trigger shortness of breath or asthma attacks. The continuous reflux activity often triggers coughing episodes from the sudden rush of acid reflux, a hallmark sign of GERD.
- Chest pain is not something to ignore with gastroesophageal reflux disease. Chest pain is often a sign of potentially life-threatening medical concern. Knowing when chest pain is normal and not a sign of something serious is important. Medical attention is always recommended for chest pain due to GERD activity to prevent delays in appropriate care.
GERD is a progressive disease, meaning the condition advances in stages. GERD symptoms can develop at any stage and may not always be present in some individuals. Diagnoses include stage designations so specialists can determine the appropriate treatment to improve symptoms and slow disease activity.
Each stage is based on symptom severity and frequency. Below are the four stages of gastroesophageal reflux disease:
Stage 1: Reflux causes symptoms that vary in frequency. GERD symptoms that occur less than once a week may benefit from stage one GERD treatment. Stage one is when inflammation is low and damage minimal. In most cases, diet and lifestyle modifications and antacids are enough to alleviate symptoms in those living with GERD.
Stage 2: When symptoms become more frequent or occur at least more than once a week, other treatment options are necessary, such as prescription medications, primarily proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or histamine 2 (H2) receptor blockers. This is considered the moderate stage of GERD.
Stage 3: Most GERD diagnoses occur during the third stage due to lifestyle concerns. At this stage, acid reflux or heartburn is so disruptive they interfere with normal daily functions or comfort levels. The severe stage of GERD is when daily lifestyle adjustments, additional prescription medications besides PPIs and H2 blockers, and specialized GERD treatment.
Stage 4: The damaging effects of GERD symptoms on the body can lead to esophageal disorders, abnormalities in the throat and esophagus, Barrett’s esophagus, dysphagia, esophageal cancers, etc. Advanced treatment plans are most effective at helping patients manage GERD symptoms.
Without timely medical attention, GERD can become challenging to manage and eventually lead to some serious or life-threatening circumstances.
GERD is treatable, and with the suitable dietary and lifestyle adjustments, symptom severity and frequency decline. Many patients with unsatisfactory treatment results from medications, PPIs, and H2 blockers experience treatment success with TIF Surgery. Known as transoral incisionless fundoplication, the procedure is advanced, minimally invasive, and highly effective for long-term GERD symptom management. Below are some considerations that make GERD symptoms manageable.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a significant risk factor in GERD patients.
- Eat smaller meal sizes. Large meals can overfill the stomach, triggering reflux.
- Eat the last meal of the day a few hours before bed and avoid bedtime snacks.
- Refrain from smoking or drinking alcohol.
- Avoid GERD food triggers, such as spicy, caffeinated, rich, and fatty foods.
Lifestyle modifications for GERD symptoms impact many aspects of living, including sleep. GERD symptoms are common during sleep and can cause shortness of breath and choking. Avoid laying flat on the back or side. Prone positions elevate the risk of reflux symptoms. Proper elevation of the upper body is beneficial in preventing symptoms. Six to eight inches of elevation is often necessary to avoid sleep-related GERD symptoms.
PPIs and H2 blockers can become dangerous when used for longer than recommended or a few weeks to neutralize GERD symptoms. Anyone experiencing gastroesophageal reflux symptoms that don’t get better or become worse should see a gastroenterologist specialist for GERD treatment.