GERD: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options

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That burning sensation you feel in your chest and throat could be much more than just your average heartburn and could actually be a sign of a more serious condition called Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In fact, heartburn, GERD and acid reflux are terms commonly used interchangeably but they actually have very different meanings. Most importantly, knowing the proper definitions of each can mean the difference between whether or not you receive a proper diagnosis and treatment, as new research has confirmed that all three are often misdiagnosed and mistreated. The good news is that, once properly diagnosed, heartburn, GERD and acid reflux can all be cured. But it starts with having the right information and that’s exactly what we’re going to get down to today.    

What is GERD?

GERD is the short form used for gastroesophageal reflux disease, a chronic and more severe form of acid reflux that affects approximately 60% of Americans. People diagnosed with GERD typically experience intense acid reflux more than twice a week or have inflammation in the esophagus. They often experience additional symptoms, such as:

  • Asthma
  • Bad breath
  • Bitter or sour taste in the back of your mouth
  • Burning sensation
  • Chest pain
  • Chronic cough
  • Damage to tooth enamel
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Heartburn
  • Hoarse voice
  • Nausea
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Persistent dry cough
  • Regurgitation

Many of these symptoms are similar to heartburn and acid reflux that is caused by something eaten or from habits, such as lying down after eating. However, GERD is slightly different as it is a chronic condition that produces far more severe symptoms that occur more frequently.  Over-the-counter medications that are designed to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach can help to relieve these GERD symptoms, but they aren’t effective for everyone.

Overtime, if left untreated, GERD can cause damage to the esophagus, which can lead to more serious health conditions, including cancer.

The Differences Between GERD and Heartburn

Gastroesophageal reflux disease and heartburn are terms that are commonly used interchangeably, but there is a clear distinction between having the occasional heartburn and GERD. In fact, most people experience heartburn from time to time with no rise for concern or medical intervention needed. Studies found that more than 60 million Americans have heartburn at least once a month and more than 15 million Americans experience it every day.

However, it’s when heartburn becomes chronic that it could be a sign of GERD. For example, most people with GERD experience heartburn more than twice a week. They often experience other symptoms, such as chest pain and a chronic cough.

But the easiest way to decipher between the two is their definition:

  • Heartburn: A symptom of acid reflux and GERD
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD): A chronic, more severe form of acid reflux/heartburn.

Common Treatments for GERD

Although GERD can be incredibly debilitating, it is curable. There are various forms of treatment available but most doctors recommend making some simple lifestyle changes first to see if that can help manage and relieve your symptoms. Oftentimes, these little adjustments are all you need to make a significant impact on how you feel and consist of doing things, such as:

  • Quitting smoking (if you smoke)
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding big, heavy meals later in the day and evening
  • Waiting a couple of hours before lying down after eating
  • Raising your head during sleep


If you’ve implemented these lifestyle changes and are still experiencing severe GERD symptoms that disrupt your quality of life, your doctor may suggest taking some over-the-counter medications, such as:

  • Antacids: can help treat occasional and milk symptoms of acid reflux and GERD. However, if you find yourself needing to take them almost every day, you may need a stronger medication.
  • H2 Receptor Blockers: help reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes.  They are often available over-the-counter but higher doses often need to be prescribed.
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors: are designed to help decrease the amount of acid your stomach makes and tend to work better than H2 receptor blockers. They also help to heal the esophageal lining, which can become damaged with prolonged GERD. These can also be purchased over-the-counter, but higher dosages often need a prescription.


If medications are not providing you with the relief you’re desperately looking for, doctors may recommend surgery in an effort to relieve your symptoms and protect your esophagus and stomach from further damage. There are two main surgery options for GERD, which are:

  • Nissen fundoplication: A portion of your stomach is wrapped around the esophagus to help strengthen it
  • Toupet fundoplication A portion of your stomach is wrapped around part of your esophagus to help strengthen it.

Both procedures are effective options. However, they can be costly and tend to require a significant amount of downtime for healing. For example, you’re often required to remain in the hospital for 4 to 6 days following the surgery and an additional 4 to 6 weeks recovering at home.

Natural Treatments for GERD

If medications aren’t working and surgery is simply out of the question (we don’t blame you), there are many natural treatments that can effectively treat GERD. While they might take a bit longer to work or require a treatment plan that consists of using a combination of different home remedies, natural treatments rarely have any side effects. They’re also far more budget-friendly and you can do them right from the comfort of your own home – no hospital stay required.

Let’s take a look at some of the top natural treatments for GERD.

Avoiding Food Triggers

As you have likely already discovered for yourself, there are many foods and beverages that increase the amount of acid in the stomach, causing you to experience acid reflux and GERD symptoms. By limiting or avoiding these triggers, you can reduce your symptoms without having to take any medications. Examples of things to avoid include:

  • Alcohol, especially red wine
  • Cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee
  • Fast food
  • Fatty meats, such as bacon and sausage
  • Fried food
  • Full-fat dairy products, such as milk, sour cream and ice cream
  • Garlic
  • Greasy foods, such as pizza
  • High-fat foods
  • Onions
  • Peppermint
  • Salty foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Tomatoes and tomato products.

Eat More Foods That Help with Acid Reflux

In addition to removing triggering foods from your diet, you’ll also want to include specific foods in your meals to help combat acid reflux. While a low fat, high protein diet is recommended for treating GERD symptoms, focusing on getting the following items in your diet can also help:

  • High-fiber foods, such as whole grains, root vegetables and green vegetables
  • Alkaline foods, such as bananas, melons, cauliflower, fennel and nuts
  • Watery foods, such as celery, cucumber, lettuce, watermelon, broth-based soups and herbal tea

Some additional tips for using food to ease your GERD symptoms include:

  • Drink low-fat milk for quick relief of heartburn symptoms
  • Eat low-fat yogurt for quick, soothing effects against heartburn
  • Add in ginger to help ease irritation in the digestive tract
  • Make a drink with apple cider vinegar (or purchase a store-bought one) to soothe acid reflux
  • Drink a small amount of lemon juice with warm water and honey to neutralize stomach acid
  • Eat a banana to help balance the acid irritating your esophagus
  • Chew sugar-free gum to increase saliva production and help with swallowing, which can help keep acid down

Make Some Lifestyle Changes

As mentioned previously, making some simple lifestyle changes can make a huge impact on your GERD symptoms and overall health and wellness. As a quick recap, here are the common recommendations listed above (plus a couple extras):

  • Quitting smoking (if you smoke)
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding big, heavy meals later in the day and evening
  • Waiting a couple of hours before lying down after eating
  • Raising your head during sleep
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing
  • Exercise regularly (30 minutes five times a week)
  • Reduce stress, as it takes a physical toll on your body and can slow down digestion and make you more sensitive to pain
  • Avoid overeating
  • Slow down when eating

Try Some Herbal Remedies

Herbs have been used for centuries due to their medicinal properties. You can add them as a garnish on your next meal, add them into a blender to make a smoothie or brew them into a tea. Some popular herbs used to help treat GERD include chamomile, licorice, marshmallow and slippery elms.

You can also find these herbs in supplement or tincture form.

Don’t let your GERD symptoms take over your life. Start implementing these natural remedies for treating GERD and free yourself of those agonizing, debilitating symptoms that can lead to far worse problems if left untreated.

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