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What Is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is when your stomach acid comes back into your esophagus. Your esophagus is the passageway connecting your stomach and throat. GERD also goes by other names:

  • Acid reflux

  • Heartburn

  • Indigestion

  • Regurgitation

Most people experience minor acid reflux every once in a while. But repetitive reflux can lead to complications, such as an inflamed esophagus, Barrett’s esophagus, or inhaling stomach acid into your lungs. You may benefit from treatment if you have reflux often.

GERD Symptoms

Most people experience the following two classic symptoms with GERD:

  • Heartburn (burning chest pain after eating)

  • Regurgitation (tasting sour backwash in the back of your mouth)

You may also experience other symptoms of GERD:

  • Bad breath

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)

  • Irritated vocal cords

  • Nausea

  • Sensations of a lump in your throat

  • Wearing away of your tooth enamel

What Does GERD Feel Like?

GERD may feel like you have food or liquid that comes back up through your throat after you eat. You may also feel discomfort and burning in your chest that worsens when lying down.

Can GERD Cause Shortness of Breath?

GERD doesn’t necessarily cause shortness of breath (dyspnea). Some people with GERD also have shortness of breath, but it’s usually related to another condition.

Can GERD Cause Heart Palpitations?

Heart palpitations are not a common symptom of GERD. See your primary care provider or cardiologist for evaluation if you have heart palpitations.

When to See a GI Specialist

You should see a gastroenterologist (gastrointestinal or GI specialist) if you’ve received GERD treatment with your primary care provider and still experience disruptive symptoms. You should also see a gastroenterologist right away if you experience any emergency symptoms along with GERD:

  • Bleeding

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Unexplained weight loss

GERD Causes

GERD occurs when the tight ring at the bottom of your esophagus (sphincter) weakens or relaxes when it shouldn’t. This allows your stomach contents to move back up into your esophagus.

Several factors can increase your risk of GERD:

  • Certain medications

  • Connective tissue disorders

  • Hiatal hernias

  • Obesity

  • Pregnancy

  • Smoking

How to Test for GERD

Your gastroenterologist will use several tests to diagnose GERD:

  • Upper endoscopyYour gastroenterologist will insert a long, thin tube through your mouth and down your throat. The tube has a light and camera to get a clear picture of your esophagus and stomach. If needed, your gastroenterologist may take a small tissue sample (biopsy) of your esophagus during the procedure. They send the tissue to a laboratory to be analyzed under a microscope. 

  • Ambulatory reflux monitoring—Your gastroenterologist will attach a small capsule to your esophagus during an endoscopy. The capsule measures acid levels and pH in your esophagus.

What to Expect at Your First Appointment

Your visit with a GI specialist starts with ask you questions about your symptoms to get a detailed health intake of your condition:

  • How long have you had symptoms?

  • When do your symptoms occur?

  • What, if anything, relieves your symptoms?

Then they’ll start with an endoscopy to examine your esophagus. They may also use ambulatory reflux monitoring if needed. After they’ve made a diagnosis, they’ll recommend treatments.


There’s no specific diet for GERD. But what you eat can affect how frequent and severe your symptoms are. Your gastroenterologist may advise that you record when you experience GERD and what you were eating. This helps identify your dietary triggers so that you can avoid them.

Some people find that specific foods, such as yogurt or peanut butter, lessen GERD symptoms. But there’s no specific food that will help everyone. Speak with your dietitian and gastroenterologist to understand what foods may help you manage your symptoms.

What Foods Trigger GERD?

Food triggers for GERD can be different for different people. You’ll have to work with your dietitian and gastroenterologist to figure out your own food triggers. Many people find that it’s helpful to avoid or limit certain foods:

  • Acidic foods, like tomatoes and citrus fruits

  • Alcohol

  • Chocolate

  • Fatty foods, including full-fat dairy

  • Spicy foods

GERD Treatment

Your GERD treatment plan may start with lifestyle changes like identifying your dietary triggers and modifying your eating habits accordingly. Your gastroenterologist may instruct you to take over-the-counter medicines or prescribe stronger options:

  • Antacids relieve heartburn and other GERD symptoms.

  • H3 blockers reduce acid production.

  • Proton pump inhibitors reduce acid production and help heal damaged tissue in your esophagus.

  • Prokinetics help your stomach empty faster.

GERD Surgery

Your gastroenterologist may recommend surgery if lifestyle changes and medications don’t manage your symptoms. They’ll likely offer a fundoplication—the gold standard procedure for GERD. Your gastroenterologist will do three steps during a fundoplication:

  1. Make a few small incisions (cuts) in your abdomen.

  2. Insert a thin tube with a camera through the incisions.

  3. Use the camera and small surgical tools to sew the top part of your stomach around your esophagus.

Wrapping the top portion of your stomach around your esophagus helps to create pressure around the lower end of your esophagus, reducing reflux. You will stay in the hospital for 1–3 days after a fundoplication. Most people return to their usual activities in 2–3 weeks.

Is GERD Curable?

GERD is usually an ongoing (chronic) condition, but treatment can manage and reduce symptoms enough that you don't experience them for long periods.

How to Prevent GERD

Some tips and behavioral changes may help you prevent episodes of reflux:

  • Avoid lying down for at least three to four hours after eating.

  • Eat small meals throughout the day.

  • Elevate your head 4-6 inches when you sleep.

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.

  • Quit smoking.

Find a GERD Specialist

Why Choose the GI Clinic at U of U Health?

Our Gastroenterology Clinic team includes regional and national experts in GERD and other swallowing disorders. Physicians throughout the Mountain West region trust our expertise and refer patients with complex needs to our team. 

All our GI specialists have extra fellowship training in esophageal disorders. This expertise allows us to offer the most advanced diagnostic tools and treatments, including through clinical trials.

Schedule an Appointment

You don’t need a referral to schedule an appointment with a gastroenterologist, but it is preferred. You or your referring provider may call 801-213-9797 or request an appointment online with our GI Clinic.

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