Discover the Common Acid Reflux Symptoms and Get Relief

Acid reflux is a digestive disorder known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle ring between the esophagus and the stomach.1 A weak or overly relaxed LES can lead stomach contents to reflux into the esophagus. This event is marked by symptoms such as heartburn, regurgitation, chest pain, nausea, and difficulty with swallowing. More than 60 million American adults experience acid reflux monthly.2 Learning about its symptoms and risk factors is vital to finding relief.

Key Takeaways

  • Acid reflux, or GERD, is a digestive disorder caused by a weakened or relaxed lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
  • Common acid reflux symptoms include heartburn, regurgitation, chest pain, nausea, and difficulty swallowing.
  • Acid reflux is a widespread condition, affecting over 60 million American adults each month.
  • Understanding the symptoms and risk factors can help individuals seek appropriate treatment and relief.
  • Diagnostic tests and treatments for acid reflux may include medication, lifestyle changes, and in some cases, surgery.

What is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is when stomach acid moves back into the esophagus. This is the tube connecting your throat to your stomach.2 The issue occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) doesn’t work well.

The LES is a ring of muscle. It normally opens to let food into the stomach and then closes. This keeps stomach contents from moving back up. But if the LES opens when it shouldn’t, stomach acid can flow back, causing trouble.1

Understanding the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES)

The LES plays a key role in the digestive system. It’s like a gate, controlling the flow of food and stomach acid. When working right, it opens to let food through. Then it shuts to keep stomach stuff from going the wrong way.1

If this muscle weakens or opens too much, stomach acid can flow back. This can cause acid reflux and GERD symptoms.1

Acid Reflux vs. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

2 GERD is the more serious version of acid reflux. Acid reflux happens to many, but GERD means it’s causing big problems. This can include heartburn, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, or regurgitation.

People usually get a GERD diagnosis if they have acid reflux often, more than twice a week.2

Causes of Acid Reflux and GERD

1 Lots of things can add to the risk of getting acid reflux or GERD. These include a hiatal hernia, being pregnant, obesity, smoking, and certain drugs.3

A hiatal hernia can push the stomach up through the diaphragm, leading to GERD in older folks. Being pregnant and obesity can both pressure the abdomen, making the LES prone to failing.3 Smoking, as well as some medications for asthma, high blood pressure, and depression, can also make LES relax. This can cause or worsen acid reflux.2

Risk Factors for Acid Reflux and GERDImpact on Acid Reflux and GERD
Hiatal herniaCommon cause of GERD, especially in older individuals3
PregnancyIncreases abdominal pressure, leading to temporary acid reflux3
ObesityIncreases abdominal pressure and weakens the LES, contributing to GERD3
SmokingCan relax the LES and contribute to chronic coughing, both of which can lead to GERD3
Certain medicationsSome medications, such as those for asthma, high blood pressure, and depression, can relax the LES and contribute to acid reflux2

acid reflux symptoms

Heartburn and Regurgitation

Acid reflux shows up as heartburn, a burn in your chest or throat, and regurgitation, stomach contents coming back up.1 Big meals, being overweight, some foods, and meds can start these symptoms.1 Heartburn and regurgitation are well-known signs of acid reflux and GERD.2

Chest Pain and Nausea

Feeling chest pain or nausea? You could have acid reflux.1 This pain is often a burning or tightness in your upper belly or chest. It might feel like a heart attack.2 Nausea comes from stomach stuff moving back up the throat.1 These problems can make you feel like you can’t swallow or like you have a throat lump.2

Sore Throat and Asthma-like Symptoms

Acid reflux might give you a sore throat, hoarse voice, and asthma-like coughing or breathing problems.1 This is called LPR. Stomach acid goes up into your throat, irritating your vocal cords and breathing tubes.3 It can make asthma worse or cause asthma-like symptoms in people without asthma.3

Risk Factors for Acid Reflux

Acid reflux, also called GERD, has many risk factors. These play a big role in if someone gets it or not. Knowing these risks helps prevent and control acid reflux symptoms.

Hiatal Hernia

A hiatal hernia is when the upper part of the stomach comes through the diaphragm. It enters the chest area. This condition increases the risk of GERD.2 It happens because the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) gets weaker. Then, stomach content can easily go back up the esophagus.

Pregnancy and Obesity

Being pregnant or obese can also increase your chances of having acid reflux.2 The extra pressure on the stomach can make LES function poorly. This means more acid can flow back into the esophagus. Keeping a healthy weight is important. It can lower the risk of GERD.

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Smoking and Certain Medications

Smoking is a lifestyle factor that might lead to acid reflux.2 It does so by making the LES weak and reducing saliva. Saliva helps to balance stomach acid. Some medications like aspirin can also cause issues. They can relax the LES or irritate the esophagus.2

Risk factors for acid reflux

It’s important to know and handle these risk factors. Doing so can help stop and manage acid reflux. This leads to better digestion and a more enjoyable life.

Complications of Chronic Acid Reflux

Mild acid reflux can often be handled with lifestyle tweaks and meds. However, constant acid reflux without treatment can cause harsh issues. This happens when stomach acid keeps flowing back into the esophagus, hurting its lining.2

Esophagitis and Barrett’s Esophagus

Chronic acid reflux can inflame the esophagus, leading to a serious issue called . In this condition, the esophagus’s healthy cells turn into cells that look like those in the intestine. This change increases the risk of having cancer of the esophagus.3

Esophageal Stricture

Damage from stomach acid can also make the esophagus narrow. This makes swallowing hard, and food might feel like it’s stuck in your throat. To fix this, you might need a procedure to widen the esophagus or even surgery.2

Laryngopharyngeal Reflux and Asthma

Stomach contents moving up into the airways can lead to . You can feel a sore throat, hoarseness, and keep coughing. It might also feel like you have asthma, with wheezing and tightness in your chest. Getting acid reflux under control is important to treat these symptoms.2

ComplicationDescriptionRisk Factors
Inflammation of the esophagusChronic, untreated acid reflux2
Precancerous condition where normal esophageal cells are replaced by intestinal-type cellsChronic acid reflux3
Narrowing of the esophagus, making it difficult to swallowRepeated exposure to stomach acid2
Reflux of stomach contents reaching the upper airways, causing throat irritation and asthma-like symptomsChronic, untreated acid reflux2

Diagnosing Acid Reflux Disease

To pinpoint what’s going on with acid reflux, doctors do various tests and check-ups.1 They start by talking to the patient, looking at their symptoms and history.4 Then, if more clues are needed, they might order some tests.

Barium Swallow Radiograph

A barium swallow radiograph is a key test for GERD.5 In the test, the patient drinks a liquid with barium. This coats the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and part of the intestine. A special X-ray shows how these parts move and look.

Endoscopy and Biopsy

Endoscopy is when a doctor threads a thin tube into the body to look around.4 If they find something odd, they might take a tiny piece of tissue to study (biopsy).5

But here’s a key point: not everyone with reflux shows unusual signs during this.5

pH Monitoring and Manometry

For a closer look at acid levels, doctors use pH monitoring. A small sensor is placed in the esophagus for a day or two. This records acid levels over time.45 Another test, manometry, checks how well the esophagus’ muscles and its valves work.

All these tests help doctors figure out if it’s acid reflux or GERD.4 This way, they can plan how to best treat and manage the problem.

Diagnosing acid reflux

Acid Reflux Medications

When it comes to acid reflux and GERD, doctors often use different medicines. These help with the symptoms and stop issues from getting worse. There are many types of these medicines, each working on a different part of the condition.

Antacids and Foaming Agents

Antacids, like Tums, Rolaids, and Maalox, cut down the stomach acid fast. They’re great for handling not-too-serious heartburn.1 Meanwhile, foaming agents, such as Gaviscon, cover the stomach’s top. This keeps acid from moving back up the throat.

H2 Blockers and Proton Pump Inhibitors

H2 blockers, for instance, ranitidine (Zantac) and famotidine (Pepcid), lower stomach acid.1 Then there are PPIs. Omeprazole (Prilosec), esomeprazole (Nexium), and lansoprazole (Prevacid) are some examples. They work even better at reducing acid, letting the throat heal from any harm.


Prokinetic meds help the LES get stronger and move food in the right way. This cuts down on acid reflux.1

Lifestyle Changes for Acid Reflux Relief

Aside from taking medicine, simple lifestyle changes can make a big difference in dealing with acid reflux. By changing what you eat, how you eat, controlling how much you eat, keeping your weight in check, and paying attention to posture, you can decrease the pain and frequency of acid reflux and GERD.

Dietary Modifications

Eating meals with fewer calories and less fat has been proven to lower acid reflux instances.6 It’s a good idea to steer clear of foods that usually trigger acid reflux, like coffee, tea, fatty foods, and citrus fruits.7 Drinking less alcohol, especially white wine and beer, can also cut down on reflux.7

Eating Habits and Portion Control

Staying at a healthy weight and opting for small, more frequent meals eases pressure on the stomach and reduces GERD signs.7 It’s also important to wear clothes that are not too tight and avoid lying down soon after eating. This keeps stomach acid from creeping up your throat.7

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Weight Management and Posture

Cutting down on extra weight can keep a stomach valve working properly and reduce reflux.7 For many overweight individuals, simply losing weight can eliminate heartburn.6 It’s critical to quit smoking, as nicotine can damage the stomach and esophagus valve.6 Raising your bed’s head by six to eight inches at night could also lessen reflux while you sleep.7

Acid Reflux in Infants and Children

Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can affect youngsters. It’s common for babies to spit up. But, if an infant has GERD, they may show more serious signs. These signs include being very fussy, having trouble sleeping, and not wanting to eat. Other symptoms are small vomits, wheezing, and bad breath.8

GER, which causes spitting up, is common in infants.8 With GERD, the symptoms may be worse. Babies with GERD might arch their back, seem to choke, or be very irritable. They may not want to eat much, leading to poor weight gain.8 It’s key to see a doctor if you notice more serious signs. These signs include a lot of crying, failing to gain weight, or having breathing issues. Signs of bleeding or dehydration are also worrying.8

Several things can make GER more likely in infants. For example, if they lie down a lot or their esophagus isn’t fully developed. Babies with GERD face an increased risk if they were born early, or they have certain health issues.8 As infants get older and eat solid foods, GER often becomes less of a problem.8

Reflux is common in young, healthy infants.9 Usually, this issue gets better by the time they are 18 months old.9 Some babies, however, might have more serious signs. These signs include losing weight or not growing as well as other kids their age.9 For most infants, reflux goes away on its own and doesn’t cause lasting harm.9 But, some studies suggest that babies who spit up often might develop GERD as they grow older.9

Factors like being born early or having certain health issues can increase a baby’s risk of reflux.9 Babies with GERD might have trouble keeping up with the growth of other kids.9

Surgery for Chronic Acid Reflux

Chronic or severe acid reflux and GERD might need surgery if medicines and lifestyle changes don’t work. The surgeries help strengthen the LES. This stops stomach contents from flowing back into the esophagus.


One common surgery for GERD is laparoscopic fundoplication.10 It wraps the top of the stomach around the esophagus. This tightens the LES, reducing reflux. The surgery takes about an hour and a half and needs general anesthesia.10 People who have had this surgery at NYu Langone often no longer need GERD medication.10

Transoral Incisionless Fundoplication (TIF)

Transoral incisionless fundoplication is less invasive and can treat GERD.10 After the surgery, many people can stop taking GERD meds and still feel better after two years.10

Stretta Procedure and LINX Surgery

Other choices are the Stretta procedure and LINX surgery.10 Stretta tightens the LES with radiofrequency. LINX is a magnetic ring around the LES. With LINX, most patients don’t need meds and have no GERD symptoms for five years.10 At first, using LINX might make swallowing uncomfortable. But, this usually gets better as the body gets used to it.10

Before any surgery, patients undergo a full evaluation. This can include an upper endoscopy, 24-hour pH testing, and esophageal manometry. This helps decide the best surgical option based on reflux severity.11

Acid Reflux and Heartburn: Seeking Medical Attention

If you get acid reflux symptoms, like heartburn, chest pain, or trouble swallowing, see a doctor. This is especially true if they keep happening. Heartburn might feel like a heart attack, so getting a proper check-up is key.2

Repeated acid coming up can cause Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).2 Signs of GERD are chest burning, a sour taste or food coming back up, pain in the upper belly area, swallowing problems, and feeling like there’s something stuck in your throat.2 Surgery might be an option for some, but it’s not common.2

Things like smoking, big meals late, fatty foods, alcohol, and some drugs can make acid reflux worse.2 Problems such as being overweight, hernias, pregnancy, and certain health issues can raise your chance of getting GERD.2

Without treatment, ongoing acid reflux can cause serious issues. These include esophagitis, esophageal stricture, and a condition called Barrett esophagus that increases cancer risk.2 It’s important to treat acid reflux and heartburn early to avoid these problems. Seek help from a doctor if they won’t go away.2

Preventing Acid Reflux Flare-ups

Dealing with acid reflux through medicine and lifestyle changes is key. Yet, you can do more to stop flare-ups. You should look at what causes your acid reflux. This helps you control symptoms and have better digestion.

Stress Management

Stress often leads to acid reflux problems.12 It makes your body make more stomach acid. Plus, stress can weaken the LES, a muscle that stops stomach acid from moving back up. To reduce stress, try meditation, deep breathing, and staying active. These can lower your chance of having acid reflux.

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Avoiding Triggers

Finding and avoiding your triggers is a big step in stopping acid reflux attacks.12 Foods high in fat, salt, and spice are often the culprits. They relax the LES, letting stomach acid come back up.12 On the other hand, foods like bananas, melons, cauliflower, and nuts can help. They balance stomach acid, making it less likely to cause problems.12 Keeping a food diary can help you spot what foods lead to your symptoms. This way, you can dodge them, lessening your risk of acid reflux.

Regular Exercise

Staying fit can also keep acid reflux at bay.13 Being overweight puts more pressure on your stomach. This can worsen your symptoms.13 Doing activities like walking, swimming, or light aerobics can help you keep a healthy weight. It also aids in better digestion and decreases the pressure on your stomach.

Using these strategies daily can help you dodge acid reflux issues. This approach supports your digestive health and boosts your overall health and happiness.


Acid reflux and GERD are digestive problems that lots of people in the US face.1 Knowing the causes is key to dealing with them well. This includes a weak lower esophageal sphincter, hiatal hernia, and lifestyle choices.14

Symptoms of acid reflux are quite noticeable. They include heartburn, feeling like food is coming back up, chest pain, and trouble swallowing.1 Getting these checked can lead to many treatment options. These span from changing how you live, to medicine and sometimes surgery.1

Research keeps finding new ways to understand and treat acid reflux and GERD.15 By keeping up to date and taking action to look after our guts, we can avoid or handle acid reflux better. This can make our daily lives better and lower the chances of big problems in the future.1


What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux is a problem in digestion, also called GERD. It happens when stomach acid goes into the esophagus. This can lead to feeling heartburn, pain in the chest, or trouble swallowing.

What causes acid reflux and GERD?

Acid reflux and GERD happen when a muscle between the esophagus and the stomach is weak or relaxes too much. This muscle, the LES, should keep stomach contents from flowing back up. If it doesn’t, acid from the stomach can irritate the esophagus.

What are the most common symptoms of acid reflux?

The main symptoms are heartburn and a sour taste in the mouth. Chest pain, nausea, and trouble swallowing are also common.

What are the risk factors for developing acid reflux?

Some things may increase your chance of getting acid reflux or GERD. These include a hiatal hernia, being pregnant, being overweight, smoking, and using certain medicines.

What are the potential complications of chronic acid reflux?

Leaving acid reflux untreated can cause other health problems. It might damage the esophagus, lead to severe narrowing, or even change the cells in the esophagus. All these can sometimes make breathing difficult, especially for people with asthma.

How is acid reflux and GERD diagnosed?

Doctors use several tests to diagnose you. They might do a barium swallow test, look into your esophagus with a camera, and measure the acid there. Manometry checks how well your LES is working.

What medications are used to treat acid reflux?

Medicines that lower the amount of stomach acid are common for treatment. These include antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors.

How can lifestyle changes help manage acid reflux?

Changing the way you live can also help. This might mean eating smaller meals, not eating close to bedtime, and losing weight. Good posture and stress management can make a difference too.

Can acid reflux affect infants and children?

Yes, babies and kids can have acid reflux too. They might be very fussy, have trouble sleeping, refuse to eat, or spit up a lot, enough that it might come out of their noses. They could also wheeze or have bad breath.

When is surgery recommended for chronic acid reflux?

If lifestyle changes and medicines aren’t working, surgery might be an option. Some procedures include wrapping the stomach around the esophagus or using a device to keep the LES closed better.

When should I seek medical attention for acid reflux and heartburn?

Don’t ignore severe or persistent symptoms like heartburn, chest pain, or trouble swallowing. These can sometimes be confused with a heart attack. If they happen often, see a doctor.

How can I prevent acid reflux flare-ups?

To avoid acid reflux getting worse, watch your stress levels and stay away from foods or situations that trigger it. Also, make sure to exercise regularly.

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