Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease—Overview

(Chronic Heartburn; Gastro-oesophageal Reflux Disease [GORD]; GERD; Reflux)

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Definition

Heartburn is a burning sensation behind the breastbone. It is caused by many different conditions. However, periodic heartburn does not mean there is a problem. Chronic heartburn, with or without other digestive symptoms more than 2 times per week for several weeks, may indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acid reflux irritates the esophagus, which can cause permanent damage over the course of time.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
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Causes

The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a muscular ring between the esophagus and the stomach. It relaxes to let food pass into the stomach, then closes shut to prevent it from backing up. Certain conditions can keep this muscle from closing completely, which allows acid to flow upward, causing heartburn.These conditions may include:
  • Problems with the nerves that control the LES
  • Problems with LES muscle tone
  • Impaired peristalsis—muscular contractions that propel food toward the stomach
  • Abnormal pressure on the LES
  • Increased relaxation of the LES
  • Increased pressure within the abdomen
Heartburn
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