Perhaps you’ve just eaten a good meal. Now, though, you’re in pain. There’s a sharp, burning sensation in your chest that won’t seem to go away. In fact, it gets worse when you bend or lie down. What’s wrong? Most people would answer “heartburn.” That’s correct.

It’s interesting that the word heartburn is often used synonymously with the terms acid reflux and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). However, these terms actually have different meanings.

Acid reflux is a common health condition that ranges in severity. GERD is a long-term, more serious form of that condition. And heartburn is a symptom of both. It’s important to know the difference so that you know what action to take to preserve your health. So when you start to feel “the burn,” is acid reflux to blame or GERD? Further, what can you do about it?

What is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, recurrent acid reflux, is the result when acid from the stomach flows up into the esophagus, which carries food from the mouth to the stomach. The lining of the esophagus is thin and when it becomes irritated in this way, there’s a burning sensation in the chest and sometimes throat.

In addition to this unpleasant feeling, other symptoms include:

  • A tight feeling in the chest or upper abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Excessive burping and belching
  • A bitter or sour taste in the throat and mouth
  • Hoarseness or a sore throat
  • Repeated coughing to clear the throat

Even worse, it can lead to other more serious issues. Like what?

Possible GERD-Related Complications

If left untreated for a significant period of time, a person can develop painful ulcers. Constant inflammation can also be a cause of irritation. Esophageal strictures or, in other words, narrowing of the esophagus can lead to trouble swallowing.

Worst of all, a person could develop Barrett’s Esophagus, which is when the lining of the esophagus is so damaged by acid that it becomes like the lining of the stomach. This condition can actually turn into a rare form of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

No doubt, you can see why prompt treatment is necessary if an individual has GERD. What options are available for treatment?

Possible Treatments For GERD

There are two categories of treatment — things you can do for yourself and things your doctor might suggest.

Minimize Symptoms Yourself

  • Don’t overeat
  • Avoid triggers such as greasy or spicy food and alcoholic beverages
  • Try not to eat within a few hours of going to bed, remain upright and avoid slumping when sitting
  • Try over-the-counter medications that neutralize or reduce acid such as Maalox

Your Doctor Might Suggest

  • Prescription medicines if over-the-counter products have been ineffective (a combination of medicines may be needed)
  • Lifestyle changes including losing weight and avoiding first and secondhand smoke
  • In serious cases, when other solutions have failed, surgery may be recommended for long-term reflux control

Don’t Choose to Suffer

As discussed, when left to its own devices, GERD can cause major health complications. It’s bad enough on its own!

That’s why, if you suspect that you may have it, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner it’s detected, the sooner it can be treated before it causes additional issues. You may have GERD but you don’t have to suffer constantly because of it. That’s a choice. What will your choice be? Will you suffer or seek help?

In addition to getting help for yourself if needed, you can encourage others to do the same. How? During GERD Awareness week, you can help to increase the understanding of this disease and draw attention to research needs. You can help others to understand what you now understand — chronic acid reflux should not be ignored or dismissed. Share what you know!