Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease Symptoms

The most common symptom of GERD is a burning sensation in the chest (called heartburn or acid indigestion) that occurs more than twice a week. People who have the condition also may experience a sour taste as heartburn spreads to the throat.

Heartburn can interfere with sleep and may worsen when lying down or bending over. In patients who have GERD, antacids and prescription medications may not be strong enough to control heartburn.

Other symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease include the following:

  • Regurgitated food, blood, or stomach juice (backward flow into the mouth)
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Food sticking in the esophagus
  • Blood loss or weight loss
  • Black stool
  • Chest pain (especially when lying down)
  • Coughing, hoarseness, or a sore throat

GERD Complications

It is important to treat GERD as quickly as possible, since the condition can cause complications:

  • Barrett's esophagus—Cells lining of the esophagus undergo a process called metaplasia, which changes their structure to one similar to small intestine cells. This is a precancerous condition; patients with Barrett's esophagus are more likely to develop esophageal cancer.
  • Esophageal cancer—If GERD is severe or untreated for many years, the risk for developing esophageal cancer increases.
  • Esophageal stricture—When acid or bile reflux into the esophagus, scar tissue replaces damaged cells and narrows the available space for food to travel to the stomach. Patients can have trouble swallowing and food can get stuck in the throat, increasing the risk of choking.
  • Esophageal ulcer—When stomach acid and bile reflux, part of the lining of the esophagus can wear away. Open sores may bleed, interfere with swallowing, and become painful.
  • Asthma—GERD can worsen asthma symptoms, particularly after meals, exercise, or lying down. Some patients see an improvement in asthma symptoms when they start taking medications for GERD.
  • Ear, nose, and throat issues—Chronic hoarseness, sore throat, and coughing that do not get better may be related to GERD.

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

Published: 28 Feb 2008

Last Modified: 17 Sep 2015