Heartburn is a burning feeling behind the breastbone. Stomach acid and food back up from the stomach into the esophagus. It irritates the lining of the esophagus. Heartburn happen often or every once in a while.
Heartburn that occurs more than 2 times a week for several weeks may be gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It can cause permanent damage over the course of time.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
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A muscular ring controls the opening between the esophagus and the stomach. It relaxes to let food pass into the stomach. Then it closes shut to keep stomach acid and food in the stomach. If the ring does not close completely, stomach acids can escape up into the esophagus. The acid irritates the esophagus and causes heartburn. There are a number of reasons that the ring may not close tightly including:
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Factors that may increase your chance of heartburn or GERD include:
Foods and drinks that are more likely to cause symptoms include:
Medications and supplements that cause symptoms may include:
Heartburn often occurs after overeating or lying down after a big meal. The symptoms may last for a few minutes or a few hours.
Common symptoms may include:
The repeated, regular episodes can lead to other symptoms such as:
Long-term complications of GERD may include:
Make an appointment to see your doctor if you have heartburn 2 or more times a week, every week.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. Heartburn or GERD will be suspected based on your symptoms. Your doctor may do a trial with medicine. If your symptoms are managed with medicine it will confirm GERD.
Further testing is not always needed. Your doctor may order the following to look for complications:
Treatment will depend the cause of the heartburn. The goal is to prevent further symptoms and heal any damage.
To help decrease chronic heartburn symptoms:
Medicine may help relieve symptoms. Some can also help to repair damage. Many heartburn medicines are available over-the-counter. Options include:
Talk to your doctor about which ones may be best for you.
Surgery may be an option if:
Surgical treatments include:
The most common surgery for GERD is fundoplication. The doctor wraps the stomach around the esophagus. This creates extra pressure on the opening to the stomach and helps keep it closed.
There are a number of procedures that can be done with an endoscope. These procedures use a long thin tube called a scope. It is passed through the mouth and down the throat and has a camera that will help the doctor see inside. Small tools can also be passed through the scope to do a number of procedures. One example is transoral incisionless fundoplication (TIF). With TIF, fasteners are used to reshape the upper part of the stomach. It will help tighten the ring muscles.
LINX is a small band with magnetic beads. A surgeon places the band around the end of the esophagus where it meets the stomach. The magnets pull together to help close the opening. Swallowed food or drink push apart the beads so that it can move into the stomach.
Some people will be able to stop or reduce medicine after surgery.
There are no current guidelines to prevent GERD.
American Gastroenterological Association
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
Canadian Association of Gastroenterology
Canadian Digestive Health Foundation
Acid reflux (GER & GERD) in adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults. Accessed April 4, 2018.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116914/Gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-GERD . Updated September 14, 2017. Accessed April 4, 2018.
Heartburn. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/heartburn/. Updated November 8, 2017. Accessed April 4, 2018.
Warning signs of a heart attack. American Heart Association website. Available at:
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Updated January 11, 2018. Accessed April 4, 2018.
9/30/2008 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116914/Gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-GERD : Jacobson BC, Moy B, Colditz GA, Fuchs CS. Postmenopausal hormone use and symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(16):1798-1804.
4/25/2014 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116914/Gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-GERD : Shimamoto T, Yamamichi N. No association of coffee consumption with gastric ulcer, duodenal ulcer, reflux esophagitis, and non-erosive reflux disease: A cross-sectional study of 8,013 healthy subjects in Japan. PLoS One. 2013;8(6):e65996.
Last reviewed March 2018 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Daus Mahnke, MD
Last Updated: 7/9/2015