Symptoms & Causes of GER & GERD

What are the symptoms of GER and GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) commonly cause symptoms such as

  • heartburn, a painful, burning feeling in the middle of your chest, behind your breastbone, rising from the lower tip of your breastbone toward your throat
  • regurgitation, or stomach contents coming back up through your esophagus and into your throat or mouth, which may cause you to taste food or stomach acid

However, not all adults with GERD have heartburn or regurgitation. Other symptoms may include

A man coughing.Symptoms of GERD may include chronic cough.

You should see a doctor if you think you have GERD, or if your symptoms don’t get better with over-the-counter medicines or lifestyle changes.

You should also see a doctor if you have symptoms that could be related to GERD complications or other serious health problems, such as

  • chest pain
  • loss of appetite
  • persistent vomiting
  • problems swallowing or pain while swallowing
  • signs of bleeding in the digestive tract, such as
    • vomit that contains blood or looks like coffee grounds
    • stool that contains blood or looks black and tarry
  • unexplained weight loss

What causes GER and GERD?

Your lower esophageal sphincter and diaphragm most often prevent GER, which is when stomach contents come back up into your esophagus. However, many people have GER once in a while.

GERD may develop if your lower esophageal sphincter becomes weak or relaxes when it shouldn’t. Factors that may affect the lower esophageal sphincter and lead to GERD include

  • being overweight or having obesity
  • being pregnant
  • smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke

Some medicines can cause GERD or make GERD symptoms worse. Examples include

A hiatal hernia can also increase the chance of getting GERD or make GERD symptoms worse. A hiatal hernia is a condition in which the opening in your diaphragm lets the upper part of the stomach move up into your chest.

Last Reviewed July 2020
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.