People who experience heartburn at least two to three times a week may have gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn, which is estimated to affect 10 million adults in the United States on a daily basis. Patients experience heartburn as a burning sensation in the center of the chest, which sometimes spreads to the throat with an acidic taste. Less common symptoms include:
● Stomach pain (pain in the upper abdomen).
● Non-burning chest pain.
● Difficulty swallowing (called dysphagia), or food getting stuck.
● Painful swallowing (called odynophagia).
● Persistent sore throat.
● Persistent laryngitis/hoarseness.
● Chronic cough, new onset asthma, or asthma only at night.
● Regurgitation of foods/fluids; a taste of acid in the throat.
● Sense of a lump in the throat.
● Worsening dental disease.
● Chronic sinusitis.
● Recurrent lung infections (called pneumonia).
● Waking up with a choking sensation.
When to Seek Help
If you have difficulty or pain when swallowing, such as feeling that the food gets “stuck,” you may need to see a healthcare provider. Other signs and symptoms that should send you to a doctor include unexplained weight loss, chest pain, choking, dark-colored stools, or vomiting blood.
Acid reflux is usually diagnosed based upon symptoms and the response to treatment. In people who have symptoms of acid reflux but no evidence of complications, a trial of treatment with lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication is often recommended without testing. Specific testing is required when the diagnosis is unclear or if there are more serious signs or symptoms as described above.
It is important to rule out potentially life-threatening problems that can cause symptoms similar to those of gastroesophageal reflux disease. This is particularly true with chest pain since it can also be a symptom of heart disease. When the symptoms are not life-threatening, and the diagnosis of gastroesophageal reflux disease is not clear, one or more of the following tests may be recommended:
● Endoscopy to evaluate the esophagus.
● 24-hour esophageal pH study.
● Esophageal manometry to measure muscle contractions of the esophagus.