The most common symptoms of GERD in adults are an acidic taste in the mouth, regurgitation, and heartburn. Less common symptoms include pain with swallowing/sore throat, increased salivation (also known as water brash), nausea, chest pain, and coughing.
GERD sometimes causes injury of the esophagus. These injuries may include one or more of the following:
Reflux esophagitis – inflammation of esophageal epithelium which can cause ulcers near the junction of the stomach and esophagus
Esophageal strictures – the persistent narrowing of the esophagus caused by reflux-induced inflammation
Esophageal adenocarcinoma – a form of cancer
Children: GERD may be difficult to detect in infants and children, since they cannot describe what they are feeling and indicators must be observed. Symptoms may vary from typical adult symptoms. GERD in children may cause repeated vomiting, effortless spitting up, coughing, and other respiratory problems, such as wheezing. Inconsolable crying, refusing food, crying for food and then pulling off the bottle or breast only to cry for it again, failure to gain adequate weight, bad breath, and burping are also common. Children may have one symptom or many; no single symptom is universal in all children with GERD.
Of the estimated 4 million babies born in the US each year, up to 35% of them may have difficulties with reflux in the first few months of their lives, known as ‘spitting up’. One theory for this is the “fourth trimester theory” which notes most animals are born with significant mobility, but humans are relatively helpless at birth, and suggests there may have once been a fourth trimester, but children began to be born earlier, evolutionarily, to accommodate the development of larger heads and brains and allow them to pass through the birth canal and this leaves them with partially undeveloped digestive systems.
Most children will outgrow their reflux by their first birthday. However, a small but significant number of them will not outgrow the condition. This is particularly true when a family history of GERD is present
GERD is caused by a failure of the lower esophageal sphincter. In healthy patients, the “angle of His“—the angle at which the esophagus enters the stomach—creates a valve that prevents duodenal bile, enzymes, and stomach acid from traveling back into the esophagus where they can cause burning and inflammation of sensitive esophageal tissue.
Factors that can contribute to GERD:
Hiatal hernia, which increases the likelihood of GERD due to mechanical and motility factors.
Obesity: increasing body mass index is associated with more severe GERD.] In a large series of 2,000 patients with symptomatic reflux disease, it has been shown that 13% of changes in esophageal acid exposure is attributable to changes in body mass index.
The use of medicines such as prednisolone.
Visceroptosis or Glénard syndrome, in which the stomach has sunk in the abdomen upsetting the motility and acid secretion of the stomach.
GERD has been linked to a variety of respiratory and laryngeal complaints such as laryngitis, chronic cough, pulmonary fibrosis, earache, and asthma, even when not clinically apparent. These atypical manifestations of GERD are commonly referred to as laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR) or as extraesophageal reflux disease (EERD).
Factors that have been linked with GERD, but not conclusively:
In 1999, a review of existing studies found that, on average, 40% of GERD patients also had H. pylori infection. The eradication of H. pylori can lead to an increase in acid secretion, leading to the question of whether H. pylori-infected GERD patients are any different than non-infected GERD patients. A double-blind study, reported in 2004, found no clinically significant difference between these two types of patients with regard to the subjective or objective measures of disease severity.
The diagnosis of GERD is usually made when typical symptoms are present. Reflux can be present in people without symptoms and the diagnosis requires both symptoms or complications and reflux of stomach content.
Other investigations may include esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD). Barium swallow X-rays should not be used for diagnosis. Esophageal manometry is not recommended for use in diagnosis, being recommended only prior to surgery.  Ambulatory esophageal pH monitoring may be useful in those who do not improve after PPIs and is not needed in those in whom Barrett’s esophagus is seen. ]Investigation for H. pylori is not usually needed.
The current gold standard for diagnosis of GERD is esophageal pH monitoring. It is the most objective test to diagnose the reflux disease and allows monitoring GERD patients in their response to medical or surgical treatment. One practice for diagnosis of GERD is a short-term treatment with proton-pump inhibitors, with improvement in symptoms suggesting a positive diagnosis. Short-term treatment with proton-pump inhibitors may help predict abnormal 24-hr pH monitoring results among patients with symptoms suggestive of GERD
The treatments for GERD may include food choices, lifestyle changes, medications, and possibly surgery. Initial treatment is frequently with a proton-pump inhibitor such as omeprazole. In some cases, a person with GERD symptoms can manage them by taking over-the-counter drugs. This is often safer and less expensive than taking prescription drugs. Some guidelines recommend trying to treat symptoms with an H2 antagonist before using a proton-pump inhibitor because of cost and safety concerns.
Certain foods may promote GERD, but most dietary interventions have little effect. Some evidence suggests that reduced sugar intake and increased fiber intake can help.Avoidance of specific foods and eating before lying down are recommended for those having GERD symptoms. Foods that may precipitate GERD include coffee, alcohol, chocolate, fatty foods, acidic foods, and spicy foods.
Weight loss may be effective in reducing the severity and frequency of symptoms. Elevating the head of the entire bed with blocks, or using a wedge pillow that elevates the individual’s shoulders and head, may inhibit GERD when lying down. Although moderate exercise may improve symptoms in people with GERD, vigorous exercise may worsen them.
Main article: Drugs for acid-related disorders
The primary medications used for GERD are proton-pump inhibitors, H2 receptor blockers and antacids with or without alginic acid. The use of acid suppression therapy is a common response to GERD symptoms and many people get more of this kind of treatment than their case merits. The overuse of acid suppression is a problem because of the side effects and costs.
Proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as omeprazole, are the most effective, followed by H2 receptor blockers, such as ranitidine. If a once daily PPI is only partially effective they may be used twice a day. They should be taken one half to one hour before a meal. There is no significant difference between PPIs. When these medications are used long term, the lowest effective dose should be taken. They may also be taken only when symptoms occur in those with frequent problems. H2 receptor blockers lead to roughly a 40% improvement.
The evidence for antacids is weaker with a benefit of about 10% while a combination of an antacid and alginic acid (such as Gaviscon) may improve symptoms 60% Metoclopramide (a prokinetic) is not recommended either alone or in combination with other treatments due to concerns around adverse effects. The benefit of the prokinetic mosapride is modest.
Other agents: Sucralfate has a similar effectiveness to H2 receptor blockers; however, sucralfate needs to be taken multiple times a day, thus limiting its use. Baclofen, an agonist of the GABA receptor, while effective, has similar issues of needing frequent dosing in addition to greater adverse effects compared to other medications.
The standard surgical treatment for severe GERD is the Nissen fundoplication. In this procedure, the upper part of the stomach is wrapped around the lower esophageal sphincter to strengthen the sphincter and prevent acid reflux and to repair a hiatal hernia. It is recommended only for those who do not improve with PPIs. Quality of life is improved in the short term compared to medical therapy, but there is uncertainty in the benefits over surgery versus long-term medical management with proton pump inhibitors. When comparing different fundoplication techniques, partial posterior fundoplication surgery is more effective than partial anterior fundoplication surgery, and partial fundoplication has better outcomes than total fundoplication.