Heartburn. Heartburn is the primary symptom of GERD. It is a burning sensation that spreads up from the stomach to the chest and throat. Heartburn is most likely to occur in connection with the following activities:
- Eating a heavy meal
- Bending over
- Lying down, particularly on the back
Patients with nighttime GERD, a common problem, tend to feel more severe pain than those whose symptoms occur at other times of the day.
The severity of heartburn does not necessarily indicate actual injury to the esophagus. For example, Barrett's esophagus, which causes precancerous changes in the esophagus, may only trigger a few symptoms, especially in elderly people. On the other hand, people can have severe heartburn but suffer no damage in their esophagus.
Dyspepsia. Up to half of GERD patients have dyspepsia, a syndrome that consists of the following:
- Pain and discomfort in the upper abdomen
- A feeling of fullness in the stomach
- Nausea after eating
People without GERD can also have dyspepsia.
Regurgitation. Regurgitation is the feeling of acid backing up in the throat. Sometimes acid regurgitates as far as the mouth and can be experienced as a "wet burp." Uncommonly, it may come out forcefully as vomit.
Less Common Symptoms
Many patients with GERD do not have heartburn or regurgitation. Elderly patients with GERD often have less typical symptoms than do younger people. Instead, symptoms may occur in the mouth or lungs.
Chest Sensations or Pain. Patients may have the sensation that food is trapped behind the breastbone. Chest pain is a common symptom of GERD. It is very important to differentiate it from chest pain caused by heart conditions, such as angina and heart attack.
Review Date: 07/11/2010
Reviewed By: Reviewed by: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.