Acid reflux disease is also known as GERD or gastro esophageal reflux disease. It occurs when the acid contents of the stomach come back up into the esophagus or gullet, and possibly into the mouth. Although in itself it is not necessarily serious, it can be a warning sign of more serious conditions, including esophageal cancer which is one of the least curable of all cancers. It is therefore important to be aware of the symptoms of acid reflux disease, so that it can be diagnosed and treated at the earliest possible opportunity.
The most usual cause of acid reflux disease is a failure in the function of the sphincter muscles of the esophagus. The sphincter is a band of muscle fiber which normally separates off the esophagus from the stomach. If it fails to close properly, liquids and food can move back up from the stomach into the gullet. Lifestyle factors that can lead to a greater risk of this happening include smoking, too much alcohol, being overweight, and over-indulgence in rich or fatty foods.
The best known and most common symptom of acid reflux disease is heartburn, which most people experience at one time or another. This is a burning pain or feeling of discomfort in the middle of the chest, possibly moving up into the throat. It is worst at night, or after a heavy meal or taking fizzy drinks. Occasional heartburn is nothing to worry about, but if you experience chronic or persistent heartburn you should certainly be checked for GERD. However, despite heartburn being the most common symptom, it is actually possible to have the disease without it.
The other most common symptom is regurgitation, which is the acid from the stomach actually rising into the throat or mouth. Another fairly common symptom, which may or may not be present, is dysphagia or difficulty in swallowing solid food. Sufferers often have a sensation that there is an obstruction in the front of the neck where food is getting stuck. This may also cause difficulty in controlling saliva in the mouth.
Additional and less frequent symptoms of acid reflux disease include nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting, especially vomiting blood. This can be a symptom of other, quite serious, conditions as well, and should be checked immediately. Other possible symptoms may be hoarseness or a change in the voice, persistent hiccups, a sensation of bloating, burping or belching, and persistent sore throat. All of these individually can be regarded as not particularly serious, or can be symptomatic of other conditions, but if all or most of them occur together, acid reflux disease is the most likely explanation.
If you experience the symptoms of acid reflux disease just once in a while, it is probably nothing to be too concerned about. You can probably find relief by taking antacid medications and by reducing consumption of fatty foods and alcohol. However, if you experience them two or more times a week, or if they are very severe, it is time to see your doctor who will order further tests.