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What Is GERD?

If you often have a painful burning feeling in your chest after you eat, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Heartburn that keeps coming back is a classic symptom of GERD. But you may have other symptoms as well. A GERD diagnosis is made only after a complete evaluation by your healthcare provider.

Note: Chest pain may also be caused by heart problems. Be sure to have all chest pain evaluated by a healthcare provider.

When you have a reflux problem

Outline of a human figure showing anatomy of upper digestive system from mouth to stomach. Esophagus goes through diaphragm to connect to stomach. Weak LES is open and arrows show movement of stomach contents up into esophagus and back of throat. Back of throat is inflamed.
With GERD, the weak LES allows food and fluids to travel back, or reflux, into the esophagus.

After you eat, food travels from your mouth down the esophagus to your stomach. Along the way, food passes through a one-way valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES sits at the opening to your stomach. Normally the LES opens when you swallow. It lets food enter the stomach, then closes quickly. With GERD, the LES doesn’t work normally. It lets food and stomach acid flow back (reflux) into the esophagus.

Some common symptoms

  • Frequent heartburn or burping

  • Sour-tasting fluid backing up into your mouth

  • Symptoms that get worse after you eat, bend over, or lie down

  • Trouble swallowing or pain when swallowing

  • A dry, long-term (chronic) cough

  • Upset stomach (nausea) or vomiting

Relieving your discomfort

You and your healthcare provider can work together to find the treatment options that best ease your symptoms. These may include lifestyle changes, medicine, and possibly surgery.

Many people find their GERD symptoms decrease when they eat small frequent meals instead of 3 large ones. Reducing the amount of fatty foods in your diet will also help. 

The following foods tend to cause problems for people diagnosed with GERD:

  • Tomatoes and tomato products

  • Alcohol

  • Coffee

  • Peppermint

  • Greasy or spicy foods

Talk with your provider if you don’t understand how to make the dietary changes needed to control your GERD symptoms. Your provider can refer you to a nutritionist.

Online Medical Reviewer: Adler, Liora C., MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Last Review Date: 7/1/2016
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