Center for Digestive Diseases

UNM Hospitals Center
for Digestive Diseases

1001 Martin Luther King Ave. NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87106

(505)272-2530 or

UNMH: (505)272-6839
CDD: (505)925-7849


What is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)?

Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease is a chronic condition in which acid or other stomach contents frequently backflow from the stomach into the esophagus and cause heartburn. Although GERD is not life threatening disease, it can affect significantly the quality of life and productivity.

What are the symptoms of GERD?

The typical symptom of GERD is heartburn, which is usually described as a burning sensation starts at the lower part of breastbone and radiate up toward the neck. Heartburn can also be associated with bitter taste in the throat and frequently occurs after meals. Other symptoms of GERD may include difficulty swallowing, feeling lump in the throat, or heart like chest pain. Other atypical symptoms may include chronic cough or asthma.

What causes GERD?

Normally, there is a muscle that separate the esophagus from the stomach called Lower Esophageal Sphincter. The function of this sphincter is to open after swallow allowing food to pass from the esophagus to the stomach. After that, the sphincter closes quickly to prevent stomach contents and food from going backward from the stomach to the esophagus. When this muscle sphincter opens inappropriately or when it is weak, then stomach contents including acid can flow backward into the esophagus. The prolonged contact between acid, bile, other digestive enzymes can be injurious to the lining of the esophagus and can lead to irritation and heartburn. If this occurs frequently, it can lead to a chronic condition called Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

How is GERD diagnosed?

When symptoms are clear, the diagnosis of GERD can be made based the patient history and the response to treatment alone without the need for further testing. However, when the symptoms are not clear or when they are complicated such as having difficulty swallowing, bleeding, or losing weight; tests are needed to make the diagnosis of GERD and to exclude other possibilities. The most common tests used to evaluate for GERD are Endoscopy and 24 hour PH study.

Endoscopy: A small, flexible tube is passed into the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. The tube has a light source and a camera that displays magnified images. The test helps in detecting changes or damages to the esophageal lining from acid reflux disease.

24-hour esophageal pH study: The test involves inserting a thin tube through the nose and into the esophagus. The tube is left in the esophagus for 24 hours. During this time the patient keeps a diary of symptoms. The tube is attached to a small device that measures how much stomach acid is reaching the esophagus. The data are then analyzed to determine the frequency of reflux and the relationship of reflux to symptoms.

What is the treatment for GERD?

GERD is treated according to its severity. For mild cases, Initial treatments include dietary and life style changes and using non-prescription medications, including antacids or histamine antagonists. Changes to diet and life style that have been recommended include weight loss, raising the head of the bed six to eight inches, avoiding acid reflux inducing foods such as excessive caffeine, chocolate, alcohol, peppermint, and fatty foods, quitting smoking, and  avoiding large and late meals. Moderate or severe cases of GERD usually require treatment with prescription medications. Most patients are treated with a proton pump inhibitor.

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