What Are the Basics of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?

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Overview

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition in which the stomach contents pass back up into the esophagus (food pipe). This backwash (acid reflux) can irritate the lining of your esophagus and cause other symptoms (see pictures right).

Signs and symptoms

Common symptoms of GERD include:

  • Feeling that food is stuck behind the breastbone
  • Heartburn or a burning pain in the chest
  • Nausea after eating

Less common symptoms are:

  • Bringing food back up (regurgitation)
  • Cough or wheezing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hiccups
  • Hoarseness or change in voice
  • Sore throat

Symptoms may get worse when you lie down or after you eat.

Causes

A ring of muscle fibers between the lower esophagus and stomach is called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When food passes down into the stomach, the LES prevents swallowed food from moving backwards. However, if the LES does not work properly, the stomach contents can leak back into the esophagus. This procedure is acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux. And if the reflux happens frequently and lasts for a long time, it develops into GERD.

Risk factors

The risk factors of reflux may include:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy
  • Scleroderma
  • Dreaking alcohol (possibly)
  • Reclining within 3 hours after eating
  • Hiatal hernia (the upper part of your stomach bulges through diaphragm, the muscle separating your abdomen and chest.)

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