If you have heartburn or acid reflux disease you should know about gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is a severe form of acid reflux that, left untreated, can be extremely painful and cause serious complications.

What is Reflux?

"Reflux" refers to stomach acid or bile flowing backwards from your stomach into your esophagus (the tube that runs from your mouth to your stomach). A ring of muscle fibers in your stomach is supposed to close and prevent your stomach contents from backing up. When the valve malfunctions it allows reflux to occur.

The backwash of acid can irritate and inflame your esophagus lining. If this condition persists it causes erosion of your esophagus and leads to complications.

What is GERD?

GERD is a severe, chronic form of heartburn or acid reflux. Doctors diagnose heartburn or acid reflux symptoms as GERD when these symptoms occur more than twice a week or when they interfere with your life.

Symptoms include a burning sensation in your chest (heartburn) that sometimes spreads to the throat and/or leaves a sour taste in your mouth; feeling like food is trapped behind the breastbone; chest pain; difficulty swallowing; a dry cough or wheezing; hiccups; hoarseness; sore throat; regurgitating food or sour liquid; nausea after eating; and feeling like there's lump in your throat. Bending, stooping, lying down or eating can exacerbate your symptoms.

Complications from GERD

Complications from GERD include breathing problems, bleeding, narrowing of the esophagus, esophageal ulcers and Barret's esophagus, a change in the color and composition of the esophagus tissue, which can increase your risk of cancer.

How is GERD Treated?

There are two basic treatments: medication and lifestyle. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe medicine that reduces acid production (H-2-receptor blockers) and/or blocks acid production (proton pump inhibitors). If medications fail to help, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Lifestyle modifications can help reduce the frequency of GERD attacks: avoid foods that aggravate the symptoms, including fatty/fried foods, alcohol, carbonated drinks, chocolate, mint, garlic, onion, tomatoes and caffeine; maintain a healthy weight; don't wear tight-fitting clothes; don't smoke; keep upright a minimum of 2 to 3 hours after eating; and sleep with your head elevated approximately 6 to 9 inches.

Stomach-soothing foods include oatmeal, ginger, pastas (but not with tomato sauce!), beans and applesauce.

For more information visit or go to HealthKey's Nutrition Center.