Understanding GERD [2020]

What is GERD?

GERD - or gastroesophageal reflux disease - is a digestive disease that causes chronic acid reflux. A long-term condition, GERD affects the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).

The lower esophageal is the ring of muscles between the stomach and the esophagus that acts as an opening and shutting valve; opening to allow food to enter and shutting to prevent food and your stomach contents from leaving. When your valve fails to close properly, your stomach contents can go back into your esophagus (reflux). This includes your stomach acids and pepsin, a digestive enzyme that can burn your esophageal lining and cause heartburn.


GERD symptoms can range from uncomfortable to more severe symptoms that include the following:

  • Unintended weight loss
  • Heartburn or a burning sensation in your chest/stomach
  • Sore throat
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Feeling like food is trapped in your chest or throat
  • Nausea
  • Regurgitation
  • Anemia
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Hoarseness
  • Belching
  • Tooth erosion – bad breath
  • Respiratory problems
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dyspepsia starting after 55 years of age 

Consider it an emergency if you are:

  • Vomiting large amounts
  • Projectile vomiting
  • Your vomit is green or yellow
  • Your vomit looks like coffee grounds
  • Tarry black or red stool


1 in 6 adult Canadians are affected by GERD and about 15-30% of Americans.

Gerd or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease is widespread and can affect 2.5% to over 25% of the population – North America is estimated at 15%.

You also are at higher risk to develop gastroesophageal reflux disease if the following relates to you:

  • Family history of GERD
  • Obesity (increases your risk of GERD by 6X)
  • Male (more likely to develop heartburn)
  • Pregnancy
  • Excessive drinking alcohol
  • Scleroderma
  • Hiatal hernia (part of your stomach protrudes into the diaphragm muscle)
  • High-cholesterol diet
  • Taking certain medications like sedatives, alpha-blockers, nitrates, painkillers, antidepressants, antihistamines
  • Smoke or experience second-hand smoke regularly 


 Untreated, GERD can be dangerous and cause major damage to your esophagus like scarring, ulcers, and bleeding.

15% of adult Canadians with GERD may develop Barrett’s Esophagus; Esophageal cancer is the main risk factor for Barrett’s Esophagus – only 14% of people with esophageal cancer will live more than 5 years after diagnosis.


There are many ways to control or prevent GERD symptoms from happening abd here are some simple changes to your lifestyle that can help:

  • Figure out your trigger foods - foods like chocolate, hot sauce, fried foods, peppermint, alcohol, carbonated drinks and anything spicy might cause acid reflux
  • Keep a healthy body weight
  • Eat small meals – creating less pressure on your LES
  • Try not to eat or drink before bed – up to 3-4 hours
  • Angle your body while sleeping (elevating your upper body)
  • Quit your nicotine habit
  • Try to move around after you eat
  • Avoid tight clothing around your midsection
  • Try to stay upright for 3-4 hours after eating and/or go for a short walk


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