GERD can be life-threatening condition

Mind & Body

February 28, 2011|By Cara O¿¿¿Neil | Clark County Health Department

GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease, a serious digestive disease that occurs when stomach acid, or bile, flows back into your esophagus.

The acid irritates the lining of your esophagus and causes GERD signs and symptoms. Acid reflux and heartburn are common digestive conditions that most people have experienced one time or another.

If symptoms occur more than twice a week or interfere with daily life, you might be diagnosed with GERD.

Signs and symptoms of GERD include:

— a burning sensation in your chest (heartburn), sometimes spreading to the throat, along with a sour taste in your mouth;

— chest pain;

— difficulty swallowing;

— dry cough;

— hoarseness or sore throat;

— sensation of a lump in the throat.


Contact your doctor if you experience frequent or severe GERD symptoms. Seek immediate medical attention if you experience chest pain, especially when accompanied by other signs and symptoms such as shortness of breath or jaw or arm pain. These may be signs and symptoms of a heart attack.

What causes gerd?

It is caused by frequent acid reflux; the backup of stomach acid or bile into the esophagus. Frequent heartburn can irritate the lining of your esophagus, causing it to become inflamed.

Conditions that can increase your risk of GERD include:

— obesity;

— hiatal hernia;

— pregnancy;

— smoking;

— dry mouth;

— asthma;

— diabetes;

— delayed stomach emptying;

— connective tissue disorders, such as scleroderma;

— zollinger-ellison syndrome.

Left untreated, GERD can lead to serious complications. You could develop an esophageal stricture; damage to the cells in the lower esophagus from acid exposure leads to formation of scar tissue, the scar tissue narrows the food pathway, causing difficulty swallowing.

You might develop an esophageal ulcer. Stomach acid can severely erode tissues, causing an open sore to form.

The ulcer may bleed, cause pain and make swallowing difficult.

Another complication is Barrett’s esophagus, which is when precancerous changes to the esophagus could occur. The color and composition of the tissue lining change. These changes are associated with an increase risk of esophageal cancer.

Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience signs and symptoms of GERD that occur weekly or disrupt daily life.

For more information, contact the Clark County Health Department at 744-4482, or on the web at

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