When a person swallows, food passes through the food pipe to the stomach. A ring of muscle tissue called the lower esophageal sphincter contracts after allowing food into the stomach. This stops the food from coming back up into the food pipe.
When the esophageal sphincter does not close correctly, the contents of the stomach can leak back into the food pipe, causing GERD.
When the symptoms of GERD occur more than twice a week for a period of more than 3 weeks, it is considered to be a chronic disorder.
Other common names for the condition include:
GERD that is left unchecked may lead to serious health problems such as Barrett’s esophagus. In this condition, the normal lining of the food pipe is replaced with a different kind of tissue and there is a higher risk of cancer in this area.
Symptoms of GERD
For most people, GERD causes the feeling known as heartburn. This ranges from a burning feeling in the chest to feeling like food is stuck in the throat. People with GERD may also experience nausea after eating.
There are some less common symptoms of GERD as well, including:
- Wheezing or weak coughing
- Sore throat
- Voice changes
- Hoarseness in voice
- Food regurgitation
Lying down immediately after eating may make symptoms worse. For some people, the symptoms are worse during the night. People who experience the symptoms of GERD during the night may find relief by elevating their head while sleeping and avoiding meals before bed.
Diet tips for GERD symptoms
Since GERD is a digestive disorder, there is often a link between a person’s diet and their symptoms. Because of this, dietary and lifestyle changes can go a long way toward treating many cases of GERD.
Foods that may worsen GERD symptoms include:
- Meat, which tends to be high in cholesterol and fatty acids
- Oils and high-fat foods, which may cause the sphincter in the stomach to relax
- Salt in high quantities
- Calcium-rich foods, such as milk, meat, and cheese, possibly because they are also high in saturated fats