Understanding GERD: Symptoms and Causes

July 2, 2024

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disorder that occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing irritation and inflammation. It often leads to symptoms such as heartburn, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing. Understanding the symptoms and causes of GERD can help manage and treat this condition effectively.

Symptoms of GERD

  • Heartburn: A burning sensation in the chest that often occurs after eating and may worsen when lying down or bending over.
  • Regurgitation: Sour-tasting fluid backing up into the throat or mouth.
  • Difficulty Swallowing: A feeling of food sticking in the throat or chest.
  • Chest Pain: A sharp or burning pain in the chest, often mistaken for a heart attack.
  • Chronic Cough: A persistent cough, especially at night.
  • Hoarseness: A raspy or hoarse voice.
  • Laryngitis: Inflammation of the voice box.
  • Worsening Asthma: Aggravation of asthma symptoms, such as coughing and wheezing.

Causes of GERD

  • Weak Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES): The LES is a ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus that acts as a valve between the esophagus and stomach. When this muscle relaxes abnormally or weakens, it allows stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus.
  • Hiatal Hernia: A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach protrudes into the diaphragm, which can affect the LES and increase the risk of acid reflux.
  • Delayed Stomach Emptying (Gastroparesis): Conditions that slow the emptying of the stomach, such as diabetes, can lead to an accumulation of stomach acid and increase the risk of GERD.
  • Obesity: Excess body weight can put pressure on the abdomen, pushing stomach contents up into the esophagus.
  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes and the growing uterus can increase abdominal pressure, leading to GERD symptoms in pregnant women.
  • Smoking: Smoking weakens the LES and increases acid production in the stomach, making reflux more likely.
  • Dietary Factors: Certain foods and beverages, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate, mint, garlic, onions, spicy foods, fatty foods, and caffeine, can trigger or worsen GERD symptoms.


If left untreated, GERD can lead to several complications that may significantly impact a person’s quality of life. One of the common complications is esophagitis, an inflammation of the esophagus that can cause pain, bleeding, and ulcers. Persistent exposure to stomach acid can also result in esophageal stricture, where the esophagus narrows, leading to difficulty swallowing and an increased risk of choking. Another serious concern is Barrett’s esophagus, a condition where the esophageal lining changes to resemble the intestinal lining, increasing the risk of esophageal cancer. Additionally, GERD can exacerbate respiratory issues such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and pulmonary fibrosis due to the aspiration of stomach contents into the lungs. Managing effectively is crucial to prevent these potential complications and improve overall health.


Diagnosing GERD typically involves a combination of clinical evaluation and diagnostic tests. Initially, a healthcare provider will assess the patient’s symptoms and medical history, often recommending lifestyle modifications and medications to see if symptoms improve. If further investigation is required, an upper endoscopy may be performed, where a flexible tube with a camera is inserted into the esophagus to look for signs of inflammation or damage. Another common diagnostic tool is esophageal pH monitoring, which measures the acidity level in the esophagus over a 24-hour period to confirm acid reflux. Additionally, esophageal manometry can be used to assess the function of the lower esophageal sphincter and the motility of the esophagus itself. By identifying the presence and extent, these diagnostic approaches help in tailoring effective treatment strategies.


GERD is a common digestive disorder that can significantly impact the quality of life if left untreated. Understanding the symptoms and causes of GERD is crucial for managing this condition effectively. Lifestyle changes, dietary modifications, and medications can help alleviate symptoms and reduce the risk of complications. If you experience persistent or severe symptoms, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.