How Do You Know When GERD Is the Problem and Not Acid Reflux?

Published April 23, 2019 by

You wake up at night with that bitter taste in your mouth from regurgitation plus chest pain.

“Oh no, was it that pepperoni pizza?”

We seem to know our triggers for heartburn, but sometimes we may get the same symptoms without the pizza. So, what gives? Is it simple heartburn or something more serious?

The Difference in Their Symptoms

Both acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) have many similar symptoms. You say heartburn, we say acid reflux.

It’s pretty clear when you have simple heartburn. There’s a burning in your chest that might have been caused by poor digestion since you sat in your lazy boy chair right after dinner.

With acid reflux and GERD there are additional and very uncomfortable symptoms. Pain and pressure in your chest especially when lying down is one obvious symptom. Add in that bitter and sour taste in your mouth because the food you ate is regurgitating back into your throat.

This keeps occurring because the esophagus and stomach are connected by the LES, better known as the lower esophageal sphincter. It should close once the food reaches the stomach, but sometimes it is weakened or just does not close securely to keep the food down. When someone occasionally experiences these symptoms, they are suffering from acid reflux.

The Key Word

Woman with GERD symptomsThe key word is occasionally. If your symptoms occur more than twice per week, you are experiencing chronic acid reflux, which may easily develop into a more serious case of GERD.

GERD is determined by the frequency and the severity of the symptoms. Along with the typical symptoms of regurgitation and chest pressure, it may also be difficult to swallow. Nausea, vomiting, and coughing may also be present. In order to confirm whether or not you have GERD, your gastroenterologist will need to perform a few diagnostic tests.

One such test is an endoscopy. During this procedure, a probe is inserted into the esophagus to determine how often reflux is actually happening, not just when someone has symptoms.

Treatments for Acid Reflux and GERD

Lifestyle changes are recommended to reduce symptoms of both conditions.

  • Lose some weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Remain upright after eating
  • Avoid fatty and fried foods
  • Eat smaller portions
  • Avoid chocolate and peppermint and know which triggers are unique to you
  • Reduce alcohol consumption

In addition to these everyday habits, over-the-counter medications can help reduce symptoms of acid reflux. Tagamet, Prevacid, Pepcid AC, or Prilosec will help to reduce acid in the stomach. Some prescription medications can help to heal the irritated esophagus.

GERD is a more serious form of acid reflux, and if lifestyle changes and prescription medications prove ineffective, surgery may be recommended. Contact a gastroenterologist at GI Solutions of Illinois if over-the-counter medications for acid reflux are no longer helping to improve your symptoms.  Call (773) 631-2728 to schedule an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists or schedule an appointment online.

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