Conditions InDepth: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/HeartburnEn Español (Spanish Version)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) results when gastric acid, food, and liquid from the stomach chronically flow up into the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach).
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GERD is caused by a weakness or transient relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle. The LES sits at the juncture between the esophagus and the stomach. When you eat, food and liquid travel down the esophagus to the stomach. Once they arrive, the resting tone of the LES helps keep stomach contents from refluxing or moving backward into the esophagus. But when the LES is weakened, it does not work properly. Stomach contents may reflux into the esophagus, which can cause the burning sensation in the chest known as heartburn.
For a list of conditions that can weaken the LES, click here .
While most Americans suffer from heartburn at one time or another, it is estimated that 17 million Americans suffer from chronic GERD. Possible long-term complications of GERD include esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus , esophageal narrowing, and cancer of the esophagus .
What are the causes of GERD/heartburn?
What are the risk factors for GERD/heartburn?
What are the symptoms of GERD/heartburn?
How is GERD/heartburn diagnosed?
What are the treatments for GERD/heartburn?
Are there screening tests for GERD/heartburn?
How can I reduce my risk of GERD/heartburn?
What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?
Where can I get more information about GERD/heartburn?
American Gastroenterological Association website. Available at: http://www.gastro.org/ . Accessed March 6, 2006.
The Merck Manual of Medical Information . 17th edition. Simon and Schuster, Inc.; 2000.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niddk.nih.gov/ . Accessed March 7, 2006.
The Society of Thoracic Surgeons website. Available at: http://www.ctsnet.org/ . Accessed March 7, 2006.
Last reviewed February 2007 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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