Is my frequent heartburn actually GERD?


How closely does this scenario describe your bouts of heartburn: A bitter or sour taste in the back of your throat after eating certain foods or maybe it’s more of an uncomfortable burning sensation beginning in your chest that slowly moves up to your neck and throat. And how frequently is this happening? Have you ever considered the possibility that instead of it being heartburn, it’s actually GERD?

If you experience these symptoms less than two times a week, it likely is heartburn.  But if these episodes are occurring at least twice or more each week, then you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.

What is GERD?

GERD is a severe and chronic splashing of stomach acid and enzymes (acid reflux) into the esophagus, throat, mouth, or airways that cause damage to these organs.  It will happen on a regular basis at least two times a week or more. If left untreated, GERD can increase the risk of esophageal cancer along with other issues such as esophageal ulcers.

Self-identifying GERD can be tricky.  We would typically think of it as simple acid reflux and believe we would recognize it if it happens.  But GERD can masquerade in various forms that you may not even realize.  You may be surprised that certain symptoms we all commonly experience at times may actually be GERD in disguise working away at compromising your health.

Anyone who is encountering a barrage of certain health issues should always seek the advice of their physician for a thorough examination of what is the root of the cause. Any of us can be easily fooled into believing a symptom is anything other than GERD. That’s why it’s important to be aware of overlooked symptoms that may actually be associated with this condition.

Overlooked symptoms possibly indicating GERD

  • Persistent cough or wheezing

We may attribute a cough or wheeze to bronchitis or the flu but coughing and wheezing can also be caused by acid reflux that is coming from the stomach and going to the lungs.  However, when we cough it can bring on more acid reflux since the actions of coughing put pressure on the stomach pushing the stomach acid upward.

  • Trouble swallowing

If you’ve noticed you have more trouble with food getting stuck when swallowing, drinking liquids that are difficult to go down, or that it feels like something is stuck in your throat, these can be signs of acid reflux.  GERD over time can cause damage to the esophagus with scar tissue from continuous acid reflux.  This then causes swelling in the lower esophagus tissue narrowing the esophagus making it difficult to swallow.

  • Sore throat or hoarseness

Having a sore throat or hoarseness is typically associated with a cold but if they are persistent and you have no other symptoms of sniffling or sneezing, it could be a symptom of GERD due to acid reflux.  The constant splash of stomach acid back up into the esophagus and throat can make your throat ache and can irritate the vocal cords.  If you notice a sore throat or a husky voice after eating a meal, you may have GERD.

  • Feeling nauseated

Few of us would think of GERD as a reason for feeling nauseated.  Being nauseated could be due to many things but if you are having this feeling and cannot attribute it to anything else, GERD could possibly be the reason.

  • Bitter taste in the mouth

If you’ve ever had the awful, icky taste of bitter acid come up from your throat into your mouth, you won’t forget it.  This is stomach acid that has been successful enough to rise all the way up the esophagus into your throat/mouth area leaving you with a terrible bitter taste to contend with.

  • Chest pain

The classic acid reflux symptom is chest pain.  This is due to the stomach acid splashing back up into the esophagus creating the feeling of heartburn or a burning sensation in the chest area. Always take chest pain seriously and do not ignore it especially if it gets worse on exertion or exercise.  If it is happening regularly, particularly after you eat, visit your physician to determine the cause.

  • Pain worsens if you lie down

After a meal, one of the worst things you can do is to go lie down.  If you want your food to digest and to move along into the intestinal tract, sitting upright is advised for at least an hour.  Lying down works against gravity and when you have GERD, it will only make it more likely for stomach acid to work its way back up into the esophagus.

  • Excess saliva

Whenever we get an irritant in our mouth, the salivary glands react by trying to overcompensate producing more saliva to wash it out.  The irritant, in this case, would be acid reflux caused by GERD.  If you have a noticeable yet unusual increase in the amount of saliva forming in your mouth and it’s not due to vomiting, GERD is to be expected.

In conclusion

Anyone experiencing any of the above symptoms for more than two weeks with no improvement should see their healthcare provider for a thorough examination and diagnosis of the cause.

Is my frequent heartburn actually GERD?
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Dr. David Samadi

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Dr. David Samadi