Signs and Symptoms of Acid Reflux (GERD) Disease
Acid reflux is common enough that over sixty million Americans have symptoms of the disease on a monthly basis. GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs when stomach acid, bile or other stomach contents, flow from the stomach and back into the esophagus. Sometimes this occurs due to pregnancy or weight pressure put on the stomach and sometimes the digestive order is due to a hiatal hernia.
Many times this digestive disorder is due to weakness or damage to the ring of muscles or lower esophageal sphincter that is supposed to let food and fluids into the stomach and keep it from backing up into the throat.
Often the signs and symptoms of acid reflux or GERD can be minimized through dietary means or by making a few changes in the way we eat or live. However there are some cases of GERD that may need treatment with special medications or even surgery.
For hints on living with and managing GERD, see here.
GERD symptoms can be fairly minimal causing mild heartburn all the way up to a very severe form that affects all aspect of life. How bad the symptoms are depend on what is wrong with the ring of muscles, the type and amount of fluid that flows back into the throat and if the saliva is able to neutralize any of the acid that is refluxed.
Acid Reflux Symptoms
The most universal acid reflux or GERD symptoms include heartburn, dyspepsia and regurgitation.
Heartburn – is often referred to as acid indigestion. This symptom can manifest as mild discomfort or a burning pain that occurs anywhere from your stomach through your abdomen into the middle of your chest and even up to your throat.
Regurgitation – occurs when the stomach acid and some other contents back up into the mouth and throat area. You may even vomit some of what comes up. This symptom often causes a bad, bitter taste in your mouth.
Dyspepsia – is actually a general term that is used to describe an upset stomach. You have dyspepsia if you feel nauseous or sick after eating, burp a lot, feel bloated or have upper abdominal discomfort or pain. You often feel like you’re just too full and could throw up anytime.
Typically you will experience acid reflux shortly after eating especially if the meal was large or contained lots of meats, creams and rich sauces. Sometimes if your stomach is full you can regurgitate or experience acid reflux when you bend over or try to pick up something heavy. Many people have problems with acid reflux when they try to lie flat on their back.
GERD is most often experienced at night and typically the symptoms can be more painful at night. The amount of pain you have is not an indication of the severity of damage to your esophagus. If you have signs and symptoms of GERD or acid reflux on an ongoing basis you should speak to your doctor. The stomach acid can damage the esophageal lining sometimes causing it to bleed.
Often pregnant women will have some acid reflux during their pregnancy especially in the final months. The pressure put on the stomach and abdomen by the growing baby combined with hormone fluctuations that can affect the muscles in the esophageal sphincter can create acid reflux. Typically this problem will disappear once the baby is born.
The foods that make acid reflux worse can be somewhat individualized. You might keep a food diary listing what you’ve eaten and how much, noting the times when you got heartburn or acid reflux after you eat. This might help you find your individual triggers. But there are some common food triggers that affect almost everyone.
Common food triggers for acid reflux include:
- Oranges, Grapefruit, and any citrus fruits or juices
- Caffeinated drinks
- Foods that are spicy, fatty or fried
Acid Reflux Complications
If untreated or ignored, acid reflux may create scarring which may later on lead to a narrowing of your esophagus. This can make swallowing difficult and may even cause food to stick in the esophagus. Worse case scenario, the acid can cause the esophageal lining to change shape and color and can ultimately cause cancer.
You should definitely tell your doctor anytime you’ve had heartburn more often than twice a week for longer than two weeks. There are acid reflux symptoms that are alarming and that means you should see your doctor as soon as possible. These symptoms include the appearance of any blood in what you regurgitate or vomit, loss in weight, stools that are black, tarry or deep red in color and difficulty in swallowing or experiencing pain when you swallow.
You should also contact your doctor if you have a hoarse or sore throat especially in the morning, hiccups that don’t stop, wheezing or dry cough like you’d see with asthma or a chronic sore throat. Anytime you are nauseous or feel sick to your stomach for longer than a couple weeks, you should speak to your doctor.
Heartburn pain can be mistakenly believed to be a heart attack and the reverse is true. Sometimes people are having a heart attack and they think they’ve just got heartburn. Anytime you aren’t sure you should call your doctor.