Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is caused by the abnormal backflow (reflux) of food, stomach acid, and other digestive juices into the esophagus, which is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. This backflow occurs when the valve between the stomach and the lower end of the esophagus does not close tightly enough or relaxes at the wrong times.

The main symptom of GERD is heartburn. In GERD, the reflux (and heartburn) lasts longer and occurs more often than ordinary heartburn. Over time, acid reflux may cause irritation and inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis), sores (ulcers) in the esophagus, and narrowing of the esophagus (stricture).

Home treatment with antacids and other nonprescription acid-reducing medicines can often ease the symptoms of mild GERD and may help prevent it in some situations. Some people find it helpful to eat small, frequent meals and to avoid food for at least 2 hours before lying down. Smoking and foods that aggravate heartburn should be avoided.

Prescription medicines may be needed for more severe or frequent symptoms.

Last Updated: March 31, 2008

Author: Monica Rhodes

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Jerome B. Simon, MD, FRCPC, FACP - Gastroenterology

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