Heartburn : Is it GERD?

Heartburn is a burning sensation in the central part of the chest leading up into the throat. It is not a condition or illness in its own right, but rather a very unpleasant symptom of something else, usually GERD.

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What is GERD?

The term GERD stands for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, a disorder that affects the valve that sits between the esophagus (your swallowing tube) and your stomach. This valve is a ring of muscle that opens to allow food to pass from the esophagus to the stomach and then closes to keep the food and acids in your stomach from moving back up into the esophagus.

Did you know that the word reflux means return or back flow? Therefore, GERD refers to when your stomach contents flow back into the esophagus. The main symptom of GERD is heartburn.

Symptoms of GERD

While the main symptom of GERD is heartburn, there are others. These include:

  • Regurgitation (liquid or food in the mouth that has returned up from the stomach)
  • Indigestion (a feeling of fullness or discomfort during or after a meal)
  • Hoarseness (a difficulty making sounds when trying to speak)
  • Cough, asthma, lung infection
  • Problems swallowing

Any of these red flag symptoms mean you should see your doctor right away:

  • Weight loss
  • Choking or shortness of breath
  • Vomiting, including bringing up blood
  • Black, tarry stools

Causes & triggers

GERD is caused by frequent episodes of regurgitation due to the valve sitting between the stomach and esophagus being weak or too relaxed. When this happens often, it leads to symptoms that are diagnosed as GERD.

If you suffer from GERD and you smoke you may want to quit. Studies have shown that cigarette smoking relaxes the LES.

Other factors that can contribute to GERD include:

  • Hiatal hernia
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity
  • Certain medications
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Fried or fatty foods
  • Coffee
  • Alcoholic beverages


GERD can interfere with day-to-day activities, work and recreation due to uncomfortable and sometimes painful symptoms. If not controlled it can lead to serious problems over time.

  • Esophagitis (painful inflammation of the esophagus caused by too much acid)
  • Esophageal bleeding and ulcers (holes or breaks in the esophagus)
  • Barrett's esophagus (a change in the cells of the lining of the esophagus)
  • Strictures (narrowing of the esophagus due to scarring)
  • Increased risk of esophageal cancer (risk factors include GERD, Barrett's esophagus, smoking, and drinking alcohol)

Esophageal ulcers


What can I do?

While some people may need medication to help control symptoms of GERD, changes in your diet and lifestyle are good places to start.

  • Avoid the foods that you know have given you GERD symptoms in the past. Maybe it was a spicy meal, or a greasy burger and fries. But remember that everyone is different: foods that other people eat with no problems may still cause symptoms for you.
  • If you are overweight, try losing a few pounds. It will improve your overall health, and studies show it can help reduce GERD symptoms, too.

What else can I do?

Here are a few other frequently suggested ideas to reduce the symptoms of GERD. While none has been proven in a clinical trial, they have been seen to work for some people.

  • Avoid alcohol
  • Try eating smaller more frequent meals
  • Finish eating for the day 2-3 hours before bedtime
  • Raise the head of your bed 10-15 centimetres or use a wedge to sleep on
  • If you smoke, quit

Important information

The Pharmacist at Walmart knows about GERD and can help you control its symptoms. Just ask!

This information should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your doctor. There may be variations in treatment that your physician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances. If you have questions about your symptoms, ask the Pharmacist at Walmart for more information, and/or contact your doctor.

The pharmacist at Walmart does not endorse or recommend any sponsor or their products or services.
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This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.



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