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Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/Heartburn

Do you have heartburn? The cause might be stomach acid leaking back into your esophagus (the tube that funnels what you eat to your stomach).

When this happens, it's called acid reflux. If the acid damages your esophagus, you have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). 

These are the most common symptoms of GERD:

  • Frequent heartburn
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Dry, chronic cough
  • Feeling fluid at the back of your throat
  • Anemia
  • Nausea or vomiting

Having these symptoms doesn't necessarily mean you have GERD. Many other conditions have similar symptoms. See a doctor if you have any of these symptoms and it doesn't go away.

GERD: what you should know

  • Risk factors for GERD include obesity, pregnancy and smoking, among others.
  • Many common medications can cause GERD or make it worse:
    • Asthma medications
    • Calcium channel blockers
    • Some antidepressants
    • Some antihistamines
    • Some painkillers 
  • Some people can help their symptoms with lifestyle changes such as losing weight; however, many people will need medications to control symptoms.
  • GERD may increase your risk for developing Barrett's esophagus, which can make you more likely to develop esophageal cancer. If you have GERD, talk with your doctor about whether you should be screened for Barrett's esophagus.

How can I get help for GERD?

Visit your primary care physician if you have the following:

  • Heartburn that occurs more than three times a week
  • Regurgitation
  • The feeling of food being stuck in your chest
  • Persistent cough
  • Nausea after a meal
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Multiple cavities and erosion in your teeth

If your primary care doctor suspects you have GERD, he or she can refer you to Rush's multidisciplinary heartburn team.

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Care for GERD at Rush

If you have GERD, your care at Rush might involve one or more of the following:

Lifestyle changes: As a first step, your doctors at Rush will often recommend you try changing aspects of your lifestyle, including the following:

  • Lose weight: Extra fat can push the gastroesophageal junction into your chest, making acid reflux worse.
  • Stop smoking: Nicotine can make your lower esophageal sphincter looser, which can increase acid reflux.
  • Change your diet: Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake. Similar to nicotine, caffeine and alcohol can loosen your lower esophageal sphincter.
  • Eat dinner early: Eat at least three hours prior to bedtime.

Medications: Drugs that suppress acid are the most common treatment for GERD. The following are some of the more common types of medications:

  • H2 blockers: These medications decrease the amount of acid your body produces. H2 blockers are typically used for short-term relief. H2 blockers are available over-the-counter or by prescription. They can be taken with an antacid (which neutralizes stomach acid).
  • Proton pump inhibitors: These medications lower the amount of acid your body produces. They can heal any damage to the esophageal lining in many people with GERD. They are typically used as a long-term medical treatment for GERD. However, proton pump inhibitors can have significant side effects.

Surgical options: If medications do not provide significant relief for your GERD, surgery may be an option for you. Surgeons at Rush offer multiple minimally invasive options, and they have the expertise to determine which is right for you.

The following are common procedures for GERD relief:

  • Laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication: Considered by surgeons to be the gold standard for GERD, this procedure (sometimes called a "lap Nissen") is used to control reflux symptoms. During the procedure, surgeons reduce the herniation of the gastroesophageal junction and wrap the top part of the stomach around the gastroesophageal junction to increase lower esophageal sphincter pressure.
  • Magnetic sphincter augmentation (also referred to as LINX): This is a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure that uses a ring of small, flexible titanium-covered magnetic beads. The beads are placed around the lower esophageal sphincter to control reflux.
  • Transoral incisionless fundoplication (TIF): This procedure is performed through your mouth by way of an endoscope (thin tube) and does not require any incisions. Through the endoscope, surgeons use part of your stomach to reconstruct an anti-reflux valve barrier. This reconstructed barrier addresses the anatomical cause of GERD.

Why choose Rush for GERD care

  • Rush has a heartburn team focused on finding the right treatment for each GERD patient — whether you need lifestyle changes or surgery. This team includes gastroenterologists, dieticians, nurse navigators and surgeons. 
  • The heartburn team nurse navigator will work with you — and the team's other clinicians — to determine the most appropriate treatment for your needs.
  • Rush is one of the few medical centers in the Chicago area to offer the LINX procedure.

Departments and programs that treat this condition