Heartburn is a common problem felt by people of all ages, gender, ethnicity, as well as geography. Heartburn, by itself, is not so harmful and can be easily treated. But if it happens to be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, commonly known as GERD, it could mean trouble for you. GERD is said to affect 20% of the U.S population and is not something that can be ignored.
GERD is a digestive condition that occurs when stomach acid flows into the esophagus. This usually occurs due to a muscle problem and the most common way to identify this is the heartburn and the reflux of food and acid. Certain factors like obesity, overeating, and lying down immediately after eating can contribute to GERD.
If left untreated, GERD can either cause or aggravate a wide variety of conditions that affect the extraesophageal structures. A number of pulmonary symptoms and diseases, otolaryngologic (ENT and head and neck) findings and symptoms, and other extraesophageal manifestations, including dental erosion, can occur. Hence, it is important to get GERD diagnosed at the earliest, and the best trigger for that is to know your symptoms.12 Here are some of the symptoms to look out for.
While heartburn might not always be due to GERD, if you feel that you are constantly troubled by it, it is safer to seek a medical opinion. Also, watch out for other symptoms like food reflux, coughing, and breathing problems. A combination of all these may be GERD.
Studies suggest that if heartburn is refractory to treatment, is chronic (beyond 5 years), or accompanied by dysphagia (difficulty in swallowing), odynophagia (pain when swallowing), or bleeding, it should be evaluated by endoscopy. There are also chances of it being malignant and hence requires medical attention.3
2. Chronic Cough
A cough by itself may not be an issue and can be treated with over-the-counter cough syrups at most times. But, if you find that you have a chronic cough along with heartburn or any other symptoms mentioned here for GERD, then it is time to meet your doctor. GERD-associated coughs are prevalent among 10 to 40% of the patient population as per a study.4
Regurgitation occurs when the undigested food from the pharynx or the esophagus comes back up through the mouth. The most common reason for regurgitation in humans is GERD. According to studies with a sample of 1700 responders on various symptoms, 10% of all GERD sufferers have regurgitation as the most common symptom. So, if you find this symptom often, or along with a few other symptoms, then make it a point to fix a doctor’s appointment.5
4. Chest Pain
The most common diagnosis of a severe chest pain is a heart attack. While this is possible, know that GERD also induces chest pain. GERD has been identified as the most common cause of non-cardiac chest pain. For quick diagnosis of GERD and on-time treatment, lookout for the other common symptoms such as heartburn, a bitter taste in the mouth, regurgitation, and cough.
According to a clinical study, GERD is a common, treatable cause of chest pain in patients with coronary artery disease. Conducted on 34 patients, the study noted that 38 of 164 chest pain episodes were due to acid reflux. So, in case you already have any heart issues, get yourself checked for GERD and any false heart attack alarms.6
Difficulty in swallowing can be common and due to many reasons. While the issue can be something as simple as a severe sore throat or throat infection, other factors like GERD can also be at play. GERD is usually accompanied by heartburn, regurgitation, chest pain, dyspepsia, and any unknown sensation (like lump or phlegm in the throat).
If any of these symptoms persist, despite over-the-counter medicines, you probably have GERD.7 Visit your doctor to verify the cause of your chest pain and watch out for these symptoms.
|↑1||Newkirk, Kaitlyn. “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).” (2017).|
|↑2||DeVault, Kenneth R. “Extraesophageal symptoms of GERD.” Cleveland Clinic journal of medicine 70 (2003): S20-32.|
|↑3||Kahrilas, Peter J. “Gastroesophageal reflux disease.” Jama 276, no. 12 (1996): 983-988.|
|↑4||Harding, Susan M., and Joel E. Richter. “The role of gastroesophageal reflux in chronic cough and asthma.” Chest 111, no. 5 (1997): 1389.|
|↑5||Isolauri, Jouko, and Pekka Laippala. “Prevalence of symptoms suggestive of gastroesophageal reflux disease in an adult population.” Annals of medicine 27, no. 1 (1995): 67-70.|
|↑6||Richter, Joel E. “Chest pain and gastroesophageal reflux disease.” Journal of clinical gastroenterology 30, no. 3 Suppl (2000): S39-41.|
|↑7||Locke, GR 3rd, Nicholas J. Talley, Sara L. Fett, Alan R. Zinsmeister, and LJ 3rd Melton. “Prevalence and clinical spectrum of gastroesophageal reflux: a population-based study in Olmsted County, Minnesota.” Gastroenterology 112, no. 5 (1997): 1448-1456.|