While many people occasionally experience acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when acid in the stomach repeatedly flows back into your esophagus, the tube connecting your mouth and stomach. As you eat, a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), opens to allow food to pass into the stomach and closes to prevent food and stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus. Gastroesophageal reflux occurs when the LES is weak or relaxes inappropriately, allowing the stomach's contents to flow up into the esophagus. This backflow, known as acid reflux, can irritate and eventually damage the lining of your esophagus.
- Heartburn, usually following a meal
- Acid taste in your mouth
- Sensation of a lump in your throat
- Chronic dry cough, especially at night
- Changes to diet or lifestyle
- Antacids, such as Mylanta, Rolaids, and Tums
- Medication to reduce acid such as Zantax, Tagamet HB, or Pepcid AC
- Prescription medication such as Prevacid, Nexium, or Prilosec
NOTE: Recent research shows that over-the-counter acid-blocking heartburn drugs (called proton pump inhibitors, or PPIs) can slightly increase your risk of other health problems over time. They are powerful drugs and are meant for short-term use only, unless under the supervision of your doctor.