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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Symptoms and Risk Factors

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acids flow backward into the esophagus, resulting in chest pain or “heartburn.” It is the most common upper–gastrointestinal disorder in Western nations, affecting 30 percent of Americans intermittently and up to 10 percent on a daily basis.

The most common reason for reflux is looseness of the muscular sphincter that separates the esophagus from the stomach. This may occur with alcohol intake, smoking, fatty foods, caffeine, chocolate, or various medications.

Over time, chronic reflux can lead to erosions, ulcers, and scarring of the esophagus wall. GERD is also a strong risk factor for esophageal cancer.


  • Heartburn
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Regurgitation
  • Belching
  • A full feeling in the throat
  • Persistent cough

Risk Factors

  • Diet (see Nutritional Considerations)
  • Disorders and conditions that cause increased pressure in the stomach, including pregnancy, obesity, and diabetes.
  • Hiatal hernia: In this syndrome, part of the stomach pushes upward through the diaphragm, displacing the lower esophageal sphincter from its normal position. As a result, the sphincter may not function appropriately.
  • Disorders of normal esophageal movements: Such disorders, which include scleroderma and Parkinson’s disease, can disrupt the esophageal clearance of refluxed stomach acid.


Gastroesophageal Reflux Diseas: Diagnosis and Treatment >>