Acid reflux happens when contents from your stomach move up into your esophagus. It’s also called acid regurgitation or gastroesophageal reflux.
If you have symptoms of acid reflux more than twice a week, you might have a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), GERD affects about 20 percent of people in the United States. If left untreated, it can sometimes cause serious complications.
Acid reflux can cause an uncomfortable burning feeling in your chest, which can radiate up toward your neck. This feeling is often known as heartburn.
If you have acid reflux, you might develop a sour or bitter taste at the back of your mouth. It might also cause you to regurgitate food or liquid from your stomach into your mouth.
In some cases, GERD can cause difficulty swallowing. It can sometimes lead to breathing problems, like a chronic cough or asthma.
The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a circular band of muscle at the end of your esophagus. When it’s working properly, it relaxes and opens when you swallow. Then it tightens and closes again afterwards.
Acid reflux happens when your LES doesn’t tighten or close properly. This allows digestive juices and other contents from your stomach to rise up into your esophagus.
To prevent and relieve symptoms of GERD, your doctor might encourage you to make changes to your eating habits or other behaviors.
They might also suggest taking over-the-counter medications, like:
In some cases, they might prescribe stronger H2 receptor blockers or PPIs. If GERD is severe and not responding to other treatments, surgery might be recommended.
Some over-the-counter and prescription medications can cause side effects. Find out more about the medications that are available to treat GERD.
In most cases, lifestyle changes and medications are enough to prevent and relieve symptoms of GERD. But sometimes, surgery is needed.
For example, your doctor might recommend surgery if lifestyle changes and medications alone haven’t stopped your symptoms. They might also suggest surgery if you’ve developed complications of GERD.
There are multiple types of surgery available to treat GERD. Click here to read about the procedures that your doctor might recommend.
If your doctor suspects you might have GERD, they’ll conduct a physical exam and ask about any symptoms you’ve been experiencing.
They might use one or more of the following procedures to confirm a diagnosis or check for complications of GERD:
About two-thirds of 4-month-old babies have symptoms of GERD. Up to 10 percent of 1-year-old babies are affected by it.
It’s normal for babies to spit up food and vomit sometimes. But if your baby is spitting up food or vomiting frequently, they might have GERD.
Other potential signs and symptoms of GERD in infants includes:
Many of these symptoms are also found in babies with tongue-tie, a condition that can make it hard for them to eat.
If you suspect your baby might have GERD or another health condition, make an appointment with their doctor. Learn how to recognize GERD in infants.
Certain conditions can increase your chances of developing GERD, including:
Some lifestyle behaviors can also raise your risk of GERD, including:
If you have any of these risk factors, taking steps to modify them may help you prevent or manage GERD. Find out more about what can raise your chances of experiencing it.
In most people, GERD doesn’t cause serious complications. But in rare cases, it can lead to serious or even life-threatening health problems.
Potential complications of GERD include:
To lower your chances of complications, it’s important to take steps to prevent and treat the symptoms of GERD.
In some people, certain types of foods and beverages trigger symptoms of GERD. Common dietary triggers include:
Dietary triggers can vary from one person to another. Find out more about common food triggers and how to avoid making your symptoms worse.
There are several lifestyle changes and home remedies that may help relieve GERD symptoms.
For example, it might help to:
Some herbal remedies might also provide relief.
Herbs commonly used for GERD include:
Although more research is needed, some people report experiencing relief from acid reflux after taking supplements, tinctures, or teas that contain these herbs.
But in some cases, herbal remedies can cause side effects or interfere with certain medications. Check out the potential benefits and risks of using herbal remedies to treat GERD.
According to 2015 researchTrusted Source, anxiety might make some of the symptoms of GERD worse.
If you suspect that anxiety is making your symptoms worse, consider talking to your doctor about strategies to relieve it.
Some things you can do to reduce anxiety include:
If your doctor suspects you have an anxiety disorder, they might refer you to a mental health specialist for diagnosis and treatment. Treatment for an anxiety disorder might include medication, talk therapy, or a combination of both.
Pregnancy can increase your chances of experiencing acid reflux. If you had GERD before getting pregnant, your symptoms might get worse.
Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause the muscles in your esophagus to relax more frequently. A growing fetus can also place pressure on your stomach. This can increase the risk of stomach acid entering your esophagus.
Many medications that are used to treat acid reflux are safe to take during pregnancy. But in some cases, your doctor might advise you to avoid certain antacids or other treatments. Learn more about the strategies you can use to manage acid reflux in pregnancy.
It’s been reported that more than 75 percent of people with asthma also experience GERD.
More research is needed to understand the exact relationship between asthma and GERD. It’s possible that GERD might make symptoms of asthma worse. But asthma and some asthma medications might raise your risk of experiencing GERD.
If you have asthma and GERD, it’s important to manage both conditions. Read more about the links between these conditions and how you can effectively manage them.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a condition that can affect your large intestine. Common symptoms include:
According to a recent reviewTrusted Source, GERD-related symptoms are more common in people with IBS than the general population.
If you have symptoms of both IBS and GERD, make an appointment with your doctor. They might recommend changes to your diet, medications, or other treatments. Learn more about the link between these conditions and how you can find relief.
In some people with GERD, certain foods and drinks can make the symptoms worse. Those dietary triggers might include alcoholic beverages.
Depending on your specific triggers, you might be able to drink alcohol in moderation. But for some people, even small amounts of alcohol trigger symptoms of GERD.
If you combine alcohol with fruit juices or other mixers, those mixers might also trigger symptoms. Discover how alcohol and mixers can trigger GERD symptoms.
Heartburn is a common symptom of acid reflux. Most people experience it from time to time, and in general, occasional heartburn isn’t a cause for concern.
But if you get heartburn more than twice a week, you might have GERD.
Medically reviewed by Deborah Weatherspoon, PhD, RN, CRNA on December 7, 2018 — Written by Healthline Editorial Team and Heather Cruickshank
"Everything you need to know about acid reflux and GERD"