Acid reflux affects millions of people around the world. For some, it is little more than a mild annoyance. For others, it can become chronic and severe. Many people are not familiar with the signs and symptoms of the condition, and thus may confuse them with something else.
Knowing the signs of acid reflux is important. This will allow you to diagnose the cause of your discomfort and take action against it.
What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux (or gastroesophageal reflux- GER) happens when the contents in your stomach come back up into your esophagus. Doctors may also refer to acid reflux as acid indigestion, acid regurgitation, heartburn, or reflux. Acid reflux is very common, and many people experience it once in a while .
If you experience acid reflux more than twice per week, you may have a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This is a more serious and long-lasting condition that can lead to other complications over time. As of 2014, researchers estimated that up to twenty percent of Americans have GERD .
Heartburn is another related condition to GER. It can be a symptom of acid reflux as well. This term can be somewhat misleading, however, because you don’t feel it in your heart. While you do typically feel heartburn as mild to severe pain in your chest, it actually occurs in your digestive system. The reason you feel the pain in your esophagus is because its lining is more delicate than that of your stomach .
Heartburn often occurs after eating, and research shows that more than fifteen million Americans experience heartburn symptoms on any given day. It is particularly common for pregnant women and the elderly .
Silent reflux (or laryngopharyngeal reflux (LPR)) is another condition similar to acid reflux. Like GER, LPR occurs when stomach acid flows back up the esophagus. It enters into the larynx (your voice box) and throat. We refer to it as silent reflux because it often does not cause any symptoms.
7 Signs of Acid Reflux
Without treatment, GER and GERD can cause serious complications over time. These may include esophagitis, esophageal stricture, and Barrett’s esophagus, as well as other conditions outside the esophagus .
Knowing the signs of acid reflux can help you to diagnose it early and come up with a treatment plan. This will prevent it from progressing and becoming a worse problem.
Although medical experts don’t understand it well, there does seem to be a connection between GERD and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). Specifically, IBS often accompanies GERD. This suggests that the two conditions may share similar disease mechanisms .
The relationship between the two conditions, however, is complicated. If you experience frequent bloating, it could be because you have one or the other, or perhaps both conditions. For this reason, it is wise to talk with your doctor about testing for both in order to get to the root of your discomfort.
2. Acidic Taste in Your Mouth
When food and stomach acid are frequently traveling back up your esophagus, it can leave a sour or unpleasant taste in your mouth . Often, no amount of brushing, flossing, or mouthwash will remove the taste. If you are noticing this taste in your mouth, talk to your doctor about testing for acid reflux or GERD.
Regurgitation is when a mixture of gastric juices, and occasionally undigested food, comes back up through the esophagus and into your mouth. Not surprisingly, it is one of the most common symptoms of acid reflux and GERD .
Heartburn can be the result of a number of things, including consuming certain foods or drinks (like coffee, tomatoes, or spicy food, to name a few), or stress. Certain medications can also cause heartburn, as can being overweight or pregnant, or smoking .
It is also a very common symptom of acid reflux or GERD. It may feel like a burning sensation in the middle of your chest or start below your breastbone and rise up toward your throat.
Dyspepsia, or indigestion, is a discomfort or pain in your upper abdomen. It often occurs after eating or drinking. Symptoms of dyspepsia include bloating, discomfort, feeling too full, nausea, and gas.
Dyspepsia itself is not a disease, but a symptom. Thus, it is a common symptom of GERD .
Dysphagia is the medical term for swallowing difficulties. Some people who experience this condition have trouble swallowing certain foods or liquids, while others can’t swallow at all. It is a common symptom of GERD, and can include the following symptoms:
- coughing or choking when eating or drinking
- bringing food back up, sometimes through the nose
- a sensation that food is stuck in your throat or chest
- persistent drooling of saliva 
One of the most common causes of persistent coughing is GERD. According to researchers at the North Carolina University School of Medicine, GERD is responsible for up to 25 percent of all chronic cough cases .
It is difficult to distinguish between a regular cough and a GERD cough. There are, however, some clues that may indicate GERD is the culprit. They may include:
- coughing mostly at night or after a meal
- coughing that occurs while you’re lying down
- persistent coughing that occurs even when other common causes are absent, such as smoking or taking medications (including ACE inhibitors).
- coughing without asthma or post nasal drip, or when chest X-rays are normal .
Treatment for Acid Reflux and GERD
In most cases, a few simple lifestyle changes can get rid of your acid reflux or GERD. These may include:
- Losing weight if you are overweight or obese.
- Elevating your head while you sleep.
- Quitting smoking
- Eating slowly, and avoiding large meals
- Avoid trigger foods, such as mint, fatty foods, spicy foods, tomatoes, onions, garlic, coffee, tea, chocolate, and alcohol.
- Avoid carbonated beverages
- Stop eating three hours before bed
- Avoid vigorous exercise after eating [12,13]
If your symptoms still won’t go away, your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following medications:
- H2 blockers
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs)
- Other medications 
It is important to be careful when taking any medication and to speak with your doctor to ensure you understand exactly how to take it safely.
Surgery for GERD
If both lifestyle changes and medications don’t work, your doctor may recommend surgery. There are three main surgeries that you can undergo for GERD:
Fundoplication. This is the most common GERD surgery. In this procedure, a surgeon will sew the top of your stomach around your esophagus to add pressure to the lower esophageal sphincter and prevent acid reflux.
Bariatric surgery. This is weight-loss surgery, and your doctor may recommend it if you have obesity and GERD.
Endoscopy. In this procedure, doctors insert an endoscope (a small, flexible tube with a light and a camera) through your mouth and into your esophagus. They may use this approach to perform a fundoplication or to deliver radiofrequency energy to the sphincter. This, however, is uncommon .
The Bottom Line
Acid reflux is a very common condition that most people experience at least once in their lifetime. If, however, it happens to you more frequently, it is worth talking to your doctor. In most cases, you can deal with your condition through lifestyle changes, but you may need a more significant intervention if your symptoms don’t clear.
For most people, GER is not a dangerous condition. If left untreated, however, it could lead to more severe problems down the road. If you suspect you might have GER or GERD, talk to your doctor. The sooner you can get a diagnosis, the sooner you can begin treating the condition.
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- “Update on the epidemiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: a systematic review.” PubMed. Hashem B El-Serag, et al. June 2014.
- “What Are the Differences Between Heartburn, Acid Reflux, and GERD?” Healthline. Tricia Kinman. April 9, 2020.
- “Causes.” GI
- “The Connection Between IBS and Acid Reflux. ” Healthline. Michael Kerr. July 2, 2019.
- “Sour Taste in Your Mouth? Here Are the 7 Most Common Causes.” Cleveland Clinic. February 8, 2019.
- “What Is Regurgitation, and Why Does It Happen?” Healthline. Eleesha Lockett, MS. September 30, 2019
- “Heartburn and acid reflux.” NHS
- “What to know about indigestion or dyspepsia.” Medical News Today. Tim Newman. October 21, 2020.
- “Dysphagia (swallowing problems).” NHS
- “Management of GERD-Related Chronic Cough.” NCBI. Ryan D. Madanick, MD. May 2013.
- “Treatment for GER & GERD.” NIDDK
- ‘” 9 ways to relieve acid reflux without medication.” Harvard. September 10, 2019.