Gastroenterology & Digestive Care

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/Heartburn

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that is caused by gastric acid flowing from the stomach into the esophagus.

Gastroesophageal refers to the stomach and esophagus, and reflux means to flow back or return.

What causes GERD?

GERD typically occurs when acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle located at the bottom of the esophagus, opens to let food in and closes to keep it in the stomach. When this muscle relaxes too often or for too long, acid refluxes back into the esophagus, causing heartburn.

Other lifestyle contributors to GERD may include the following:

  • Being overweight
  • Overeating
  • Consuming certain foods, such as citrus,chocolate, fatty, and spicy foods
  • Caffeine
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDs) drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen

Other conditions associated with heartburn may include the following:

  • Gastritis. This is inflammation of the stomach lining
  • Ulcer disease

What are the symptoms of GERD?

Heartburn, also called acid indigestion, is the most common symptom of GERD. Heartburn is described as a burning chest pain that begins behind the breastbone and moves upward to the neck and throat. It can last as long as two hours and is often worse after eating. Lying down or bending over can also result in heartburn.

Most children younger than 12 years of age, and some adults, diagnosed with GERD will experience a dry cough, asthma symptoms, or trouble swallowing, instead of heartburn. Heartburn pain is less likely to be associated with physical activity.

The symptoms of GERD may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

Treatment for GERD

Specific treatment for GERD will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the condition
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the condition
  • Your opinion or preference

In many cases, GERD can be relieved through diet and lifestyle changes, as directed by your doctor.


Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, is a painful or burning feeling in the upper abdomen and is usually accompanied by nausea, bloating or gas, a feeling of fullness, and, sometimes, vomiting. While indigestion may be the result of a disease or an ulcer in the digestive tract, most often it is the result of eating too much, eating too quickly, eating high-fat foods, or eating during stressful situations.

Some causes of indigestion may include the following:

  • Stomach or duodenal ulcers
  • Stomach irritation (gastritis)
  • Regurgitation or reflux of acid from the stomach into the esophagus 
  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection 
  • Inflammation of the gallbladder (cholecystitis)
  • Lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk and other dairy products)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome and other disorders affecting intestinal motility
  • Swallowing air (aerophagia)
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Medications that irritate the stomach lining
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol

What are symptoms of indigestion?

The following are the most common symptoms of indigestion. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Pain and discomfort in the upper abdomen
  • Belching and loud intestinal sounds (borborygmi)
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Poor appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Flatulence

The symptoms of indigestion may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.

If the indigestion is accompanied by any of the following, it may be an indication of a more serious problem. Contact your health care provider immediately.

  • Vomiting
  • Blood in the vomit
  • Weight loss or appetite loss
  • Black tarry stools
  • Severe pain in the upper right abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Radiating pain to the jaw, neck, or arm
  • Difficult, painful swallowing

For information about the GERD services provided at Des Peres Hospital, or to find a physician, 
please fill out our form or call (877) 693-8165.