GERD stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is the backflow of stomach contents (including stomach acid) upward into the esophagus (the swallowing tube that extends from the mouth to the stomach and sits behind the breast bone).
The lining of the stomach protects the stomach from the effects of its own acids. Because the esophagus lacks a similar protective lining, stomach acid that flows backward (refluxes) into it causes heartburn (also called dyspepsia).
Many people experience heartburn occasionally; however, people who get heartburn or other GERD symptoms persistently are considered to have GERD. As many as 60% of Americans experience GERD symptoms once a year, and about 10% to 20% of the Western world
suffer from heartburn or acid regurgitation on a weekly basis.
Adults, children, and even infants can have GERD.
GERD occurs when a valve located at the bottom of the esophagus (called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES) that normally keeps acid in the stomach isn't functioning properly. Acid that moves from the stomach into the esophagus damages its lining and can cause burning and pain.
Risk factors are characteristics that may increase your chance for developing a condition. Risk factors for GERD include:
- age (over 50 years old)
- being overweight or obese
- eating and drinking certain types of foods and drinks (see below)
- having excess abdominal fat
- taking certain medications (e.g., NSAIDs, some antidepressants, calcium channel blockers, corticosteroids)
The following foods can cause symptoms of GERD, but may not necessarily cause GERD itself:
- alcoholic drinks
- coffee, tea, cola
- foods with high acid content (e.g., tomatoes, orange juice)
- fried or fatty foods
- spicy foods
Some researchers believe that GERD is associated with a condition called hiatal hernia in which a portion of the stomach lining pushes up through the diaphragm into the chest cavity. People with severe GERD almost always have a hiatal hernia.