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GERD (acid reflux) symptoms

What is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease occurs when the contents of your stomach back up into your esophagus (food pipe) and cause bothersome symptoms or, eventually, long-term problems.

The esophagus is the tube that carries food from your throat to your stomach. The backward movement of stomach fluids is called reflux. The acid and bile from your stomach can irritate your esophagus, throat and vocal cords.

GERD can cause long-term swelling and changes in your esophagus. Over time, it can lead to Barrett’s Esophagus, which can increase your chance of esophageal cancer.

What are the symptoms?

A common symptom is heartburn. Heartburn is a sensation that is a burning pain or warmth usually felt in your chest, behind the breastbone, 30-60 minutes after eating a meal. Symptoms worsen if you eat a large meal, bend over or lie flat, or lift something heavy after you eat.

Other symptoms include:

  • Bitter or sour taste in mouth
  • Severe pain or pressure below the breastbone
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Hoarse or raspy voice
  • Unexplained dry coughing
  • Wheezing, shortness of breath and chest tightness

When should I see a doctor?

See a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Bloody stool or black stool
  • Night sweats, feeling very tired or fatigued
  • Decreased appetite

If your GERD pain does not get better within 15 minutes of medication, radiates to your jaw and left arm or you experience shortness of breath or a squeezing chest pain, go to the ER. Heartburn and GERD symptoms are commonly similar to symptoms of a heart attack.

What lifestyle changes can I make?

  • Lose weight if you're overweight
  • Stop eating at least three hours before lying down
  • Avoid foods that trigger symptoms
  • Avoid late meals
  • Stop smoking
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothes
  • Avoid medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Raise the head of the bed six to eight inches. This can be achieved by putting blocks of wood under the bed's legs or a foam wedge under the mattress. Avoid sleeping on additional pillows. This can increase pressure on your stomach.
  • Calcium channel blockers

What foods should I avoid?

  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Fatty/fried foods
  • Spicy foods
  • White bread
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Citrus fruits (such as oranges and lemons)
  • Tomatoes and tomato products
  • Sauces such as mustard and mayonnaise

If you notice that your symptoms are worse after you have certain foods or beverages, it’s a good idea to limit or avoid these things.

What foods can help prevent acid reflux?

  • High-fiber foods such as whole grains, root and green vegetables
  • Alkaline foods such as bananas, melons, fennel, cauliflower, yogurt
  • Watery foods such as celery, cucumber, lettuce, herbal tea, bone broth

Visit for a list of acidic and alkaline foods.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of GERD, talk to your doctor. If you need help finding a doctor, call 888.39.MERCY.