Complete Guide to Acid Reflux and GERD

Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux (GER) is a common condition that occurs when stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus. This muscular tube connects your throat to your stomach. It affects an estimated 60 million Americans of every gender, race, and adult age group.

Indeed, the National Institute of Digestive and Kidney Diseases lists acid reflux/GERD as one of the top digestive diseases (1a).

In this SANE MD and Throat Clearing blog post, we’ll explore acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and their symptoms, causes, and treatment options and offer natural methods that you can use to find relief. If you’re serious about clearing your throat then make sure to check out our End Constant Throat Clearing in 2024: 8 Causes & Easy Fixes for Relief guide!

Key Takeaways

  • Acid reflux is when stomach contents splash back into the esophagus. GERD, a chronic digestive disorder, is a more severe form of acid reflux.
  • GERD can be caused by lifestyle factors such as being overweight, overeating, consuming caffeine, alcohol, chocolate, and spicy foods.
  • Making changes to your diet and lifestyle can alleviate symptoms of GERD. Additionally, medication may help reduce symptoms.

What Causes Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter does not close correctly, and stomach acid flows back into the throat and mouth, often causing heartburn and leaving a sour taste in your mouth. Stomach acid reflux typically occurs after eating, and the symptoms can be unpleasant.

Most people experience acid reflux with accompanying heartburn now and again, and it is not dangerous to health. However, frequent acid reflux/heartburn can increase your risk of developing GERD, leading to serious complications. (Read more about GERD below.)

Symptoms of Acid Reflux

The most common symptom of acid reflux is heartburn, a burning sensation in the chest directly behind the breastbone. Heartburn is caused by stomach acid refluxing up into your esophagus.

Other symptoms include:

  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Nausea
  • Regurgitation, when swallowed food comes back up into the mouth.
  • Sour taste in the mouth

What is Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)?

GERD, which stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease, is a condition where the stomach’s acidic contents consistently flow back up into the esophagus. This tube connects the throat to the stomach. In simpler terms, GERD is a chronic, more serious form of acid reflux.

Difference Between Acid Reflux and GERD

Although acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD are often used interchangeably, they have different meanings.

While they all involve regurgitating stomach contents into the esophagus, GERD’s acid reflux happens frequently and can cause long-term damage to the body. This is because the stomach acid irritates the lining of the esophagus, which can result in severe complications.

How do you know if you have acid reflux or its more severe form — GERD?

Simple. If you have heartburn or acid reflux at least twice a week, even after taking medication and antacids, you may have GERD.

An infographic featuring cartoon images of two men experiencing symptoms of GERD and cartoon images illustrating ways to prevent GERD with explanatory text described below.

Explanatory Text

GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease)

Symptoms of GERD: dry cough, sour throat, sour taste in your mouth, difficulty swallowing, vomiting, heart burn, stomach ache.

Ways to prevent GERD: avoid fast food, stop eating three to four hours before sleep, maintain a healthy weight, eat smaller meals, avoid alcohol and caffeine, avoid tobacco, avoid spicy food, avoid tight-fitting clothing, exercise regularly, avoid stress.

End Explanatory Text

Symptoms of GERD

Symptoms of GERD are varied and may include:

  • A burning sensation in the chest (heartburn) more than twice a week
  • A sour taste in the mouth
  • Chest pain
  • Regurgitation of stomach contents into the mouth
  • The sensation of a lump in your throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Laryngitis
  • Hoarseness
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Breathing difficulties, like asthma symptoms
  • Chronic dry cough
  • Increased saliva
  • Sore throat

Complications of GERD

GERD can lead to several severe complications if left untreated, including:

  • Barrett’s esophagus. This is a condition that can occur when stomach acid damages the lining of the esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus can eventually lead to esophageal cancer.
  • Esophageal stricture. This is a narrowing of the esophagus due to scarring of the esophageal tissue caused by stomach acid.
  • Esophagitis. This condition is an irritation of the esophagus caused by stomach acid.
  • Esophageal cancer. Untreated long-term GERD can result in a cancerous tumor developing in the esophagus.

Risk Factors of Acid Reflux or GERD

Acid reflux or GERD can be caused by physical conditions, health problems, lifestyle, diet, or a combination.

An image of an obese man measuring his bulging stomach.

Physical Conditions

  • Hiatal Hernia. This happens when a part of your stomach moves up towards your chest due to a compromised diaphragm, which can affect the functioning of your lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
  • Obesity. Being overweight or obese is a significant risk factor for acid reflux and GERD. The extra weight increases the pressure on the abdomen, causing the LES to open more frequently, even when not eating.
  • Pregnancy. Pregnant women are prone to acid reflux and GERD due to the extra pressure the growing uterus puts on the abdomen. Additionally, an increase in pregnancy hormones affects muscles in the digestive system, including the LES.
  • An older body. Those 65 and older are at a significantly increased risk of developing GERD. This is because aging brings physiological changes that affect the mouth, throat, esophagus, and stomach. They are also more likely to have comorbidities, such as smoking, that increase the risk of acid reflux. (1).

Health Problems

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Research indicates that over 50% of people who suffer from IBS also experience GERD, and the symptoms can be exacerbated when both conditions are present. The relationship between these two conditions is unclear (2).

Asthma. Asthma is a chronic respiratory condition that can cause many unpleasant symptoms, including acid reflux. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, asthma flare-ups can cause the LES to relax, allowing stomach contents to flow up in the esophagus. Second, specific asthma medications, such as theophylline, have been shown to worsen acid reflux symptoms.

Connective tissue disorders. Due to tissue inflammation, people with connective tissue disorders may have impaired esophageal function (3). As a result, they can experience frequent acid reflux.

Gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is when a person’s stomach takes an extended period to empty. This results from inefficient or non-existent stomach muscle contractions. Individuals with this condition are at a higher risk of developing GERD due to food remaining in their stomach for longer periods, which stimulates the production of more stomach acid.


Several medications increase the risk of developing GERD or worsening symptoms. These medications include:

  • Specific asthma medications
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Benzodiazepines, such as Xanax
  • Tricyclic antidepressants

Lifestyle Factors

Lifestyle factors include:

  • Eating large meals, especially before lying down
  • Smoking or breathing secondhand smoke
  • Overuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen

Dietary Factors

Specific foods are known to trigger acid reflux, including:

  • Chocolate
  • Spicy foods
  • Peppermint
  • Fatty foods
  • Fried foods
  • Acidic foods, such as tomatoes and citrus fruits
  • Coffee
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Alcohol

Treating Acid Reflux and GERD

Numerous treatments for acid reflux and GERD include medications and surgery.

Medications for Acid Reflux/GERD


Antacids are medicines designed to neutralize stomach acid to help relieve heartburn, acid indigestion, and stomach upset. Popular brands include Alka-Seltzer, RUMS, and Rolaids. These over-the-counter medicines can be effective for those who experience occasional heartburn or indigestion due to particular food or drink triggers.

Antacids come in tablet or liquid form and typically contain chemical compounds like sodium bicarbonate or magnesium hydroxide. Though they work quickly to provide short-term relief by reducing the acidity of your stomach contents., they can also hinder nutrient absorption over time, potentially leading to deficiencies.

It’s important to note that these antacids may not work for everyone, and if you find yourself needing to use them regularly, it’s best to talk to your doctor about it.

H2 Blockers

These medications reduce acid production.

H-2 blockers provide more extended relief than antacids and can reduce stomach acid production for up to 12 hours. (They do take longer to work than antacids, though.)

Popular brands include Tagamet HB and Peptide AC. Prescription-only versions, including famotidine and nizatidine, are available for those who need a more significant decrease in stomach acid.

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)

Proton pump inhibitors are medications that block acid production while healing the esophagus.

PPIs are more effective at blocking acid than H-2 blockers, giving damaged esophageal tissue time to heal.

Popular over-the-counter brands include Prilosec OTC, Prevacid 24 HR, and Nexium 24 HR. Prescription-strength PPIs include Nexium and Prilosec.

Surgeries to Treat GERD

If medications are ineffective or you prefer to avoid long-term use, your doctor may suggest one of these surgeries.

  • The LINX device. The link device is a small ring made of magnetic beads that is placed around the connection point of the stomach and esophagus. The magnets are powerful enough to prevent acid reflux yet gentle enough to allow food to pass through. This device can be implanted using minimally invasive surgery and will not affect airport security or magnetic resonance imaging.
  • Fundoplication. A surgical procedure called fundoplication can help prevent reflux by tightening the lower esophageal sphincter. During the process, the surgeon wraps the upper part of the stomach around the sphincter. This can be done using minimally invasive methods, such as laparoscopy. Fundoplication can be done partially or entirely, with the most common partial procedure being the Toupet fundoplication. Your surgeon will recommend the best type of fundoplication for your specific needs.
  • Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication (TIF). A new medical procedure called Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication (TIF) involves tightening the lower esophageal sphincter by partially wrapping it around the lower esophagus using polypropylene fasteners. This procedure is done through the mouth using an endoscope and requires no surgical incision. TIF has several benefits, including a quick recovery time and high tolerance.

Natural Relief for Acid Reflux and GERD Symptoms

If you have acid reflux or GERD, you can practice diet and lifestyle changes, including:

  • Avoiding trigger foods, such as fatty or fried foods
  • Losing weight if needed
  • Quitting smoking/avoiding secondhand smoke
  • Eating smaller meals
  • Avoiding overeating
  • Elevating the head of your bed six inches. To elevate the head of your bed, you can use bricks, cinderblocks, or bed risers under the bed legs at the head of the bed. Alternatively, you can use a “wedge” pillow while sleeping to raise your chest and head above the level of your stomach.
  • Avoiding going to bed right after eating. Try to wait a few hours after meals to lie down.
  • Wearing looser clothing that doesn’t restrict the waist or stomach


It’s common to experience heartburn occasionally, but if you’re having it more than twice a week and lifestyle changes aren’t helping, it could be GERD.

If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, your doctor can help you find an effective treatment plan to minimize your risk of severe complications and physical discomfort.

Don’t let persistent heartburn disrupt your daily life. You must talk to your doctor if you suspect you have GERD symptoms.

Frequently Asked Questions

What helps acid reflux go away?

If you suffer from acid reflux, several over-the-counter medications can be used to suppress the symptoms, including Tagamet, Zantac, and Pepcid. Common brand-name antacids such as Gaviscon, Maalox, Mylanta, and Tums can also be effective. However, if you take antacids more than four times a week to control your symptoms, you must seek medical advice from a physician.

What triggers acid reflux?

Several things can cause acid reflux, such as consuming a large meal and then lying down or bending over at the waist. Eating snacks too close to bedtime can also be a trigger. Certain foods, like citrus, tomato, chocolate, and spicy or fatty foods, have been known to cause acid reflux. Certain beverages like alcohol, carbonated drinks, and coffee can also contribute to acid reflux.

What are 4 symptoms of GERD?

Four symptoms of GERD are sore throat, heartburn, cough, and hoarseness.