GERD Center

GERD Symptoms

Symptoms of GERD
Early GERD symptoms need to be treated. The most common symptoms in children are repeated vomiting, coughing, and other respiratory problems. However, most people experiencing GERD misinterpret symptoms for heartburn. Although heartburn is one symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease, not everyone with GERD experiences heartburn. Other symptoms of GERD include:

  • bitter taste in the mouth
  • excess saliva
  • feeling of tightness in the throat, as if a piece of food is stuck there
  • hoarseness (especially in the morning)
  • persistent dry cough
  • regurgitation of bitter acid up into the throat while sleeping or bending over
  • wheezing

Since GERD seems to break out at night, most people diagnosed with GERD experience interrupted sleep which can result in daytime drowsiness. However, gastroesophageal reflux disease symptoms usually occur after the following:

  • bending over
  • eating a heavy meal
  • lying on the back

Heart attack or heartburn?
For many people, the burning, unbearable heartburn that accompanies GERD disorders happens at night and may accompany considerable pain in the chest area. Heartburn pain can be misinterpreted as a heart attack and it's important to recognize shooting needles located in the chest area. The symptoms of chest pain that accompany a heart attack are inconsistent with the classic description of heartburn, especially in women, who often present with atypical pain, such as abdominal or back pain. If pain lasts for more than few minutes, do not try to diagnose yourself but seek immediate medical attention.

When GERD is not treated, serious complications can occur, such as esophageal ulcers, severe chest pain that can mimic a heart attack, esophageal stricture (a narrowing or obstruction of the esophagus), bleeding, or a pre-malignant change in the shape/color of the lining of the esophagus called Barrett's esophagus.  Inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis) from refluxed stomach acid can damage the lining and cause bleeding or ulcers-also called esophagitis.People who also experience chronic, untreated heartburn for many years are at substantially greater risk of developing esophageal cancer, which is often fatal.   Studies have shown that GERD may also worsen or contribute to asthma, chronic cough, and pulmonary fibrosis.

Symptoms that suggest serious damage include:

  • black bowel movements
  • bleeding or vomiting blood
  • choking difficulty swallowing or a feeling that food is trapped behind the breast bone - (dysphagia)
  • sensation of acid refluxed into the windpipe causing shortness of breath, coughing, or hoarseness of the voice.
  • weight loss

When to seek help
Most people suffer from heartburn occasionally, usually after a meal, with millions experiencing heartburn at least once a month. When heartburn occurs frequently, however, or becomes severe, you should consult your doctor. Call your doctor if you manifest any of the following symptoms:

  • black stools (from digested blood)
  • difficulty swallowing
  • discomfort interferes with lifestyle or daily activities
  • drastic weight loss
  • episodes of choking, coughing or wheezing
  • heartburn becomes more severe
  • heartburn interferes with your ability to fall asleep
  • heartburn is causing you to vomit
  • heartburn isn't relieved by medication
  • heartburn persists
  • heartburn wakes you at night
  • pain when swallowing.
  • persistent hoarseness
  • persistent sore throat
  • the sensation of food caught in your chest or throat
  • vomit blood

Chest pain associated with GERD is typically burning and may extend upward, usually occurs after meals and is often relieved by antacids. However, the pain can be so similar to that of chest pain that it is often difficult or impossible to distinguish between the two without sophisticated testing. Your doctor can help determine if you have gastroesophageal reflux disease is a diagnostic possibility and work with you to get you symptom-free. But what tests do doctors use to rule our more serious conditions? To learn more about how doctors diagnose GERD, read the Diagnosing GERD section that follows.

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