Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: How do you know if you have it?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common disorder that occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach flow back into the esophagus during or after a meal. When refluxed stomach acid touches the lining of the esophagus, it causes a burning sensation in the chest or throat called heartburn.

A recent study shows that inherited genes are responsible for a person developing GERD, but only about a third of the time. Most cases of GERD are caused by nongenetic factors, and it is unclear what those factors are. Environmental factors such as tobacco use, weight, and alcohol intake did not significantly impact the development of GERD.


People with asthma are at very high risk for GERD. A study also indicated that patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (e.g., emphysema or chronic bronchitis) were more likely to have GERD.

A combination of lifestyle changes and medicines or surgical procedures may be used to treat GERD.

Symptoms of GERD

GERD is accompanied by persistent symptoms, primarily frequent heartburn and acid indigestion.

If you occasionally experience heartburn just after a meal and less than once a week, you probably do not have GERD. More frequent heartburn that becomes increasingly severe, or occurs at night and wakes you from sleep, may be a sign of GERD, and it can eventually lead to more serious health problems.

While chronic heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD, numerous, less common symptoms other than heartburn may be associated with GERD. These may include:

  • Belching
  • Difficulty or pain when swallowing
  • Waterbrash (sudden excess of saliva)
  • Dysphagia (sensation of food sticking in the esophagus)
  • Chronic sore throat
  • Laryngitis
  • Inflammation of the gums
  • Erosion of the enamel of the teeth
  • Hoarseness in the morning
  • A sour taste
  • Bad breath