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Symptoms of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/Heartburn

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GERD symptoms can occur at any time. However, they usually occur after overeating, or lying down after a big meal. Symptoms may last for a few minutes or a few hours.

Heartburn
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The most common symptoms of GERD include:

  • Heartburn—a burning feeling that starts in the lower chest and may move up the throat
  • Frequent, persistent, recurrent, or chronic indigestion. Symptoms of indigestion include:
    • Upper abdominal pain or discomfort following a meal
    • Burping, bloating, heartburn, nausea, and vomiting
  • Regurgitation of stomach contents into the back of the mouth or throat
  • Sour or bitter taste in the back of mouth or throat

Other symptoms of GERD may include:

  • Sore throat
  • Bad breath
  • Hoarseness
  • Chronic cough
  • Choking
  • Wheezing or trouble breathing
  • Insomnia
  • Feeling of a lump in the throat
  • Difficulty or painful swallowing
  • Chest pain Note: GERD can feel like the pain associated with a heart attack. Do not assume that chest pain is GERD or indigestion. If you have chest pains or other symptoms of a possible heart attack, call for medical help immediately for emergency medical care.
  • Recurrent vomiting or failure to thrive in infants

Long-term complications of GERD may include:

  • Esophagitis—inflammation of the esophagus
  • Bleeding and ulcers in the esophagus
  • Dental problems, which may occur because of the effect of stomach acid on tooth enamel
  • Chronic laryngitis
  • Asthma attacks and/or pneumonia—during sleep acid refluxes from the stomach into the throat, then drains into the lungs, causing irritation
  • Barrett’s esophagus—a precancerous condition that can lead to esophageal cancer
  • Esophageal cancer—may develop in patients who have Barrett’s esophagus

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: Daus Mahnke, MD
  • Review Date: 03/2014 -
  • Update Date: 05/08/2014 -
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated April 29, 2013. Accessed April 30, 2013.

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gastrointestinal%5Fdisorders/esophageal%5Fand%5Fswallowing%5Fdisorders/gastroesophageal%5Freflux%5Fdisease%5Fgerd.html. Updated May 2012. Accessed April 30, 2013.

  • Heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux (GER), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gerd. Updated April 30, 2012. Accessed April 30, 2013.

  • Katz PO, Gerson LB, et al. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108(3):302-328.

  • Understanding heartburn and reflux disease. American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/heartburn-gerd. Published April 25, 2010. Accessed April 30, 2010.