What is GERD?

Q: Why do I keep getting a bitter taste in my mouth?

A: The symptom is likely heartburn, which could be a sign of GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, which is a digestive disorder that affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach.

Many people, including pregnant women and those who are obese, suffer from heartburn or acid indigestion caused by GERD. Risk factors include caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and chocolate, which can cause weaknesses in the LES. It could also be caused by a hiatal hernia.

Heartburn, the most common symptom of GERD, usually feels like a burning chest pain beginning behind the breastbone and moving upward to the neck and throat. Many people say it feels like food is coming back into the mouth leaving an acid or bitter taste.

In most cases, heartburn can be relieved through diet and lifestyle changes; however, some people may require medication or surgery. The burning, pressure or pain of heartburn can last as long as two hours and is often worse after eating. Lying down or bending over can also result in heartburn. Many people obtain relief by standing upright or by taking an antacid that clears acid out of the esophagus.

Heartburn pain can be mistaken for the pain associated with heart disease or a heart attack, but there are differences. Exercise may aggravate pain resulting from heart disease, and rest may relieve the pain. Heartburn pain is less likely to be associated with physical activity.

Treatment aims at decreasing the amount of reflux or reducing damage to the lining of the esophagus from refluxed materials. Along with lifestyle and diet changes, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription treatments.

Today’s expert is Chris Klimek, certified physician assistant, ThedaCare Physicians-New London.