What exactly is heartburn and GERD?

Posted on November 24, 2017 by kerri
We’ve all experienced “heartburn” from time to time, and most of us probably know it has nothing to do with the heart! Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, is the burning sensation in the esophagus when stomach acid or, less often, stomach contents find themselves going the wrong direction. While acid reflux is closely related to gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, they are not the same thing. [1]
A plate of spaghetti with sauce, herbs and cheese.
Tomato sauces are a common trigger for heartburn as they contain acidic tomatoes, herbs and onions that may trigger reflux.
What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux can result in uncomfortable symptoms caused by food or stomach acid going the reverse direction. Pain or burning in the chest and tasting a sour “acid like” substance or regurgitated foods, are the annoying symptoms of heartburn, or acid reflux.
Occasional acid reflux is most often able to be treated with over the counter remedies (Tums, Pepto-Bismol, Prilosec OTC, or Pepcid, for example). As well, lifestyle changes like weight loss, eating smaller meals and not overeating, and avoiding your “trigger foods” can help. [2] Often, reflux is caused by similar foods—fried or fatty foods, peppermint or chocolate. [2] As well, some people find spicy foods trigger their acid reflux. Some medicines may also make you more prone to episodes of acid reflux. In addition, avoiding laying flat for two hours after eating, and eating smaller meals, may help you avoid reflux symptoms. [3]
If your reflux is occasional, not too bothersome, and you find relief in the solutions above, it is likely not cause for alarm.
What is GERD?
In some people, acid reflux happens more often than others. If reflux is severe, and happens frequently, they may be diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease. GERD typically has symptoms beyond “simple” acid reflux, including regurgitation (bringing up swallowed food into the mouth), nausea, or vomiting, issues swallowing, chest pain, and breathing issues including coughing or wheezing. [2]
The above strategies for acid reflux may help manage GERD, however, seeing your doctor for diagnosis and proper treatment is important, if you think you may have GERD. Certain tests may be done to confirm your diagnosis, and prescription medicines or in some cases, surgery, can help alleviate your symptoms. [2]
What foods are most likely to trigger acid reflux or GERD?
In addition to the trigger foods mentioned above—chocolate, peppermint, or fried or high-fat foods [2]—there are other foods that may trigger your acid reflux. These include spicy foods, black pepper, garlic, raw onion, citrus fruits like lemons, oranges, and orange or citrus juices, tomatoes (tomato sauces and soups can be a problem because they often contain a number of potential triggers!), and caffeinated drinks, including coffee, carbonated sodas and teas. [3]
November 23-29 is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease or GERD Awareness Week. If your GERD is linked to medication use or another medical condition, ask your doctor if you need to wear medical ID jewelry.

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