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What is Acid Reflux (GERD)?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, abbreviated GERD and sometimes called acid reflux, happens when food and acid inside the stomach leak back up into the bottom of the throat. This causes a burning sensation, heartburn, and a bad taste or smell in the mouth. GERD is different from occasional heartburn in that it happens regularly, at least twice a week over several weeks.

GERD happens because the muscle around the bottom of the throat weakens. This can be caused by a shift in the placement of the stomach, as happens with a hiatal hernia. Other risk factors include obesity, pregnancy, the use of certain medications, and smoking.

A person with GERD will notice the obvious signs of heartburn and an acid feeling in their throat several times a week. Other symptoms can include a persistent cough, nausea, asthma, or a sore throat that doesn’t go away. If GERD is left untreated, it can cause problems in the lining of the throat, including ulcers and even cancer.

There are simple lifestyle changes that can be made to combat acid reflux:
  • Lose weight, if needed.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Eat small meals and don’t lie down right after eating.
  • Stay away from acidic foods and foods known to cause reflux such as fried food and coffee.

If those lifestyle changes aren’t enough, there are medications that can help. Antacids, medications that decrease acid production in the stomach, medications to help the stomach empty faster, and antibiotics can all be useful. In extreme cases, surgery can be performed to tighten the bottom of the esophagus.