Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are related conditions involving the backflow of stomach contents, particularly stomach acid, into the esophagus. While they share similarities, they have distinct differences in terms of symptoms, severity, and long-term implications.
Acid reflux, often referred to as heartburn or acid indigestion, is a common digestive disorder where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. Occasional acid reflux is normal and doesn’t typically cause significant problems.
Acid reflux is usually caused by a weakened lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscle that acts as a valve between the esophagus and the stomach. Certain factors can weaken the LES, including obesity, smoking, pregnancy, certain foods, and a hiatal hernia, where a part of the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm.
Typical symptoms of acid reflux include:
- Heartburn: A burning sensation in the chest or throat.
- Regurgitation: Sour or bitter taste in the mouth, especially after meals or when lying down.
- Difficulty swallowing: A sensation of a lump in the throat.
- Coughing or wheezing: Especially at night or when lying down.
Treatment for acid reflux often involves lifestyle changes and over-the-counter antacids or medications that reduce acid production. Recommendations include avoiding trigger foods, eating smaller meals, not lying down right after eating, and maintaining a healthy weight.
GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease):
GERD is a chronic and more severe form of acid reflux. It occurs when acid reflux happens more frequently or becomes persistent, causing troublesome symptoms and potential complications. If acid reflux occurs more than twice a week or causes damage to the esophagus, it is typically diagnosed as GERD.
GERD is caused by a combination of factors, including a weakened LES, hiatal hernia, obesity, pregnancy, and sometimes delayed stomach emptying. Certain lifestyle factors like diet, smoking, and alcohol consumption can exacerbate GERD.
Symptoms of GERD can be more intense and persistent compared to acid reflux. Common symptoms include:
- Frequent heartburn or chest pain.
- Regurgitation of sour or bitter-tasting acid into the throat or mouth.
- Chronic cough, hoarseness, or sore throat.
- Difficulty swallowing or the sensation of a lump in the throat.
- Disrupted sleep due to nighttime heartburn.
GERD can lead to more serious complications, including esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus), esophageal strictures (narrowing of the esophagus), Barrett’s esophagus (abnormal changes in the lining of the esophagus), and an increased risk of esophageal cancer.
Treatment for GERD involves a combination of lifestyle modifications, medication, and in severe cases, surgery. Lifestyle changes often include dietary adjustments, weight management, elevating the head of the bed, and avoiding triggers. Medications include proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), H2 blockers, and antacids. Surgery may be considered for individuals not responding to medications or those with severe complications.
In summary, acid reflux is a common occurrence when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing occasional symptoms. On the other hand, GERD is a chronic and more severe condition, characterized by frequent and persistent acid reflux with potential long-term complications. It’s crucial to seek medical attention if you experience persistent or severe symptoms, as untreated GERD can have serious consequences for your esophageal health.