Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a chronic digestive condition that causes painful heartburn and regurgitation for millions of Americans every year. It occurs when the contents of the stomach seep backwards into the esophagus.

Symptoms & Causes

Normally, following a meal, a valve on your esophagus – the sphincter – closes, preventing hydrochloric acid produced in the digestive process from backing up (refluxing) into the esophagus. When reflux occurs, this valve fails to seal properly, and the stomach contents flow freely into the throat and esophagus. This damages the esophageal lining and causes a variety of painful symptoms.

Heartburn is most commonly associated with GERD. Also known as acid indigestion, this burning pain radiates from the stomach to the abdomen and chest and may last for up to two hours after a meal. It is frequently accompanied by regurgitation, a sour taste in the mouth, and dyspepsia, or general stomach discomfort. Other symptoms often include belching, bloating, coughing, wheezing, hoarseness and nausea.

Symptoms occur most frequently after eating, when lying down or when bending over. They are most common at night.

Some patients have small amount of reflux without heartburn, which can affect the throat, resulting in mild sore throat, hoarseness, feeling something stuck in the throat, having excess mucus in the throat or difficulty swallowing. This condition is called laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) and can occur with or without GERD.

Reflux Treatments

An effective way to treat acid reflux is to avoid the triggers that cause painful heartburn and other symptoms. Stay away from those foods and beverages that are likely to cause a negative reaction. Change your eating habits; stick with smaller, more frequent meals, and avoid eating too closely to bedtime. Quit smoking, and ask your doctor if the medications you are taking might be responsible for your symptoms. If you are overweight, start exercising.

Over-the-counter antacids taken immediately after meals will help neutralize stomach acids and can prevent heartburn from occurring or relieve the symptoms.

For serious cases that do not respond to medical treatment, surgery may be recommended.