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Conditions InDepth: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/Heartburn

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) results when gastric acid, food, and liquid from the stomach chronically flow up into the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach).

Gastroesophageal Reflux

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GERD is caused by a weakness or transient relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle. The LES sits at the juncture between the esophagus and the stomach. When you eat, food and liquid travel down the esophagus to the stomach. Once they arrive, the resting tone of the LES helps keep stomach contents from refluxing or moving backward into the esophagus. But when the LES is weakened, it does not work properly. Stomach contents may reflux into the esophagus, which can cause the burning sensation in the chest known as heartburn.

While most Americans suffer from heartburn at one time or another, millions of Americans suffer from chronic GERD. Possible long-term complications of GERD include esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, esophageal narrowing, and cancer of the esophagus.

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References:

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Updated April 29, 2013. Accessed April 30, 2013.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. Available at:
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Updated May 2012. Accessed April 30, 2013.
Heartburn, gastroesophageal reflux (GER), and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at:
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Updated April 30, 2012. Accessed April 30, 2013.
Katz PO, Gerson LB, et al. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Am J Gastroenterol. 2013;108(3):302-328.
Understanding heartburn and reflux disease. American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at:
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Published April 25, 2010. Accessed April 30, 2010.
Last reviewed March 2014 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Last Updated: 5/8/2014