gastrointestinal conditions

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Most of us experience some heartburn once in awhile. This discomfort, which can feel like a burning sensation behind the sternum and into the throat, may follow a particularly heavy or fatty meal or be experienced during pregnancy.

Your stomach is made to handle the acid necessary to help digest your food. Your esophagus—the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach—isn't. If stomach acid gets up into your esophagus, you'll likely experience the discomfort of heartburn.


When acid comes up into your esophagus more regularly and becomes a chronic problem, your doctor may find that you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In addition to the burning sensation of heartburn, GERD may cause hoarseness, bad breath and nausea, especially after a meal.

Treatment for GERD

There are both over-the-counter and prescription medications that can help ease the symptoms of heartburn and GERD. Most work by reducing the level of stomach acid.

If medication alone seems unable to help your symptoms, your doctor may suggest additional tests. These may include monitoring the acid level in your esophagus or checking how well the muscles in your esophagus are working.

Your doctor may also need to look inside your esophagus and stomach to check for damage or find problems that might be causing your symptoms. During this exam, called upper endoscopy, you'll be given a sedative before your doctor slides a flexible tube, called an endoscope, with a light and tiny camera into your esophagus, stomach and the first portion of your small intestine, called the duodenum.

With this firsthand view, your doctor can see if you have any inflammation, swollen veins, ulcers or abnormal tissue. The endoscope includes a channel through which medical instruments can be passed. If necessary, tissue samples, or biopsies, can be taken with the endoscope for further testing.

Left untreated, GERD can be painful and may lead to more serious problems. Your gastroenterologist can help you treat your disease to influence the cause of it and improve the symptoms you’re having.

Treatment can also help prevent more serious complications like narrowing or scarring of your esophagus, Barrett’s esophagus, and esophageal cancer.