Overview of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal reflux disease, also called GERD and acid reflux disorder, is a condition in which contents from the stomach, such as acid and bile, flow back up (reflux) into the lower part of the esophagus. The esophagus is the hollow, muscular organ that carries food and liquids from the throat to the stomach.

The lower esophageal sphincter is a muscle that controls the opening between the esophagus and the stomach. Normally, this muscle only opens when food is swallowed; otherwise, it is firmly closed. When the muscle does not function properly, chronic heartburn (also called acid indigestion) can result. If this happens often, GERD can develop.

GERD causes inflammation of the esophagus and increases the risk for ulcers, esophageal stricture (narrowing), and esophageal cancer. The term "acid reflux disease" sometimes is used to describe gastroesophageal reflux disease, but acid reflux is just one symptom of the condition.

Incidence and Prevalence of GERD

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, over 15 million people in the United States have heartburn on a daily basis. Elderly people and pregnant women are at increased risk for chronic heartburn, which is a symptom of GERD. Overall, gastroesophageal reflux disease affects about 25 to 35 percent of the total U.S. population.

Publication Review By: Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 21 Feb 2008

Last Modified: 17 Sep 2015