Find relief from burning gastroesophageal reflux pain

Your stomach uses gastric acids to help break down and digest the foods that you eat. A small muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter at the bottom of your esophagus (the tube that leads from your mouth to your stomach) opens and shuts your esophagus. It opens to let food in, then closes to keep stomach acid from getting into your esophagus.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when your lower esophageal sphincter relaxes for too long and lets acid flow up into your esophagus. The acid can cause painful heartburn that feels like burning in your chest or neck. People with gastroesophageal reflux disease often experience heartburn multiple times per week.

What are symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease?

Heartburn is the main symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease. However, some people who don’t feel any heartburn have a condition called “silent reflux.”

Other symptoms may include:

  • A sour taste in your mouth
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • A feeling like a lump in your throat

These symptoms may be signs of damage to the lining of your esophagus.

What are the complications of gastroesophageal reflux disease?

Left untreated, gastroesophageal reflux disease can cause problems with your esophagus and breathing. If stomach acid continues to damage the lining of your esophagus, it may narrow or the tissues may start to change. This leads to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which puts you at risk of getting esophageal cancer.

Depending on how long you have had symptoms, your doctor may want to check your esophagus for damage with an upper endoscopy. Endoscopy uses a small tube with a camera on the end to go down into your esophagus and examine the tissues.

What causes gastroesophageal reflux disease?

Many lifestyle choices can cause you to experience gastroesophageal reflux disease, including:

  • Smoking
  • Eating too much
  • Eating acidic foods like oranges or tomatoes
  • Eating spicy foods
  • Eating fatty foods
  • Drinking or eating caffeine
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Taking aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen

Some people are at a greater risk of developing gastroesophageal reflux disease, including people who are obese or pregnant women. You’re also at risk if you have a hiatal hernia or a weak lower esophageal sphincter. The risk for gastroesophageal reflux disease usually increases as you age.

How is gastroesophageal reflux disease treated?

In many cases, gastroesophageal reflux disease can be controlled by changing what you eat and making other positive lifestyle choices. By avoiding the foods, drinks and activities that cause gastroesophageal reflux disease, you can often stop experiencing heartburn.

You can also take steps to keep acid in your stomach by waiting to lie down or sleep until at least a few hours after eating. Or try raising the head of your bed to help acid flow downward.

Medicines like antacids and protein pump-inhibitors, which are available over-the-counter, can help stop heartburn. Other prescription medications can help food empty from your stomach faster, reducing your chance of heartburn.

In some cases, surgery may be a good option to strengthen the area around your lower esophageal sphincter. During a laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication, a surgeon uses tiny incisions to take the upper part of your stomach (the fundus) and wrap it around your lower esophagus, making your sphincter stronger.

Another surgical procedure, called a transoral incisionless fundoplication, does not use any incisions. Instead, a specialized device is lowered through your throat to your sphincter. Your doctor then tightens the sphincter, helping to reduce your reflux.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.