Acid reflux and GERD: The same thing?

Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are closely related, but the terms don't necessarily mean the same thing.

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), is the backward flow of stomach acid into the tube that connects your throat to your stomach, called the esophagus. During an episode of acid reflux, you might feel a burning sensation in your chest, commonly called heartburn. This can happen after eating a big meal or drinking coffee or alcohol.

Sometimes acid reflux progresses to GERD, a more severe form of reflux. The most common symptom of GERD is frequent heartburn — two or more times a week. Other symptoms can include regurgitation of food or sour liquid, difficulty swallowing, coughing, wheezing, and chest pain — especially while lying down at night.

If you have occasional acid reflux, try these lifestyle changes:

  • Lose excess weight.
  • Eat smaller meals.
  • Don't eat 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Raise the head of your bed.
  • Don't eat foods that seem to trigger heartburn — such as fried or fatty foods, chocolate, and peppermint.
  • Don't wear tight clothing around your abdomen.
  • Don't drink alcohol or use tobacco.

If necessary, occasional acid reflux can be treated with nonprescription medication, including:

  • Antacids, such as Tums or Maalox.
  • H-2-receptor blockers, such as cimetidine (Tagamet HB) or famotidine (Pepcid AC).

If you suspect that you have GERD, your symptoms worsen, or you have nausea, vomiting or difficulty swallowing, talk to your health care team. Prescription medications might help. In a few cases, GERD might be treated with surgery or other procedures.

Last Updated Jul 1, 2023

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