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 (esophagus). During an episode of acid reflux, you might feel a burning sensation in your chest (heartburn). This can occur 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 signs and 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, lifestyle changes can help. Lose excess weight, eat smaller meals, don't eat two to three hours before bedtime, raise the head of your bed, and avoid foods that seem to trigger heartburn — such as fried or fatty foods, chocolate, and peppermint. Don't wear tight clothing around your abdomen, and avoid alcohol and tobacco.
If necessary, occasional acid reflux can be treated with over-the-counter 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 signs and symptoms worsen, or you have nausea, vomiting or difficulty swallowing, talk to your doctor. Prescription medications might help. In a few cases, GERD might be treated with surgery or other procedures.