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GERD is No Joke!

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is one of the most common gastrointestinal disorders. The prevalence of GERD varies greatly over the world. In general, studies have suggested that approximately one-third of the worldwide population has GERD. [1]

Heartburn, Acid Reflux and GERD – Are They the Same?

These terms are common and often used interchangeably but they do not represent the same meaning.

Heartburn (a symptom) – a burning sensation in the chest or upper abdomen

Acid reflux (a condition) – occurs when there is a backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus

GERD (a disease) – a more serious form of acid reflux

Symptoms of GERD


Causes & Risk Factors


  • Smoking will slow down digestion which causes the stomach to produce more acid
  • Lying down right after having a meal will cause stomach acid to slide into the esophagus easily
  • Overeating at a fast pace may cause the stomach acid to rush upward into the esophagus, leading to heartburn sensation [2]


  • Frequent consumption of acid-producing foods and drinks such as fried foods, spicy foods, caffeine, chocolate, citrus fruits, tomatoes and more
  • Heavy meal consumption two to three hours prior to sleeping which causes nighttime reflux
  • Excessive alcohol intake


  • Hormonal changes during pregnancy will weaken Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES), allowing reflux to occur more easily
  • Obesity may increase intra-abdominal pressure and decrease Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) pressure which could lead to increased esophageal acid exposure [3]
  • Genetic factors

Not Only Adults, Babies Get GERD too!

GERD is relatively common among babies below 2 years old especially if born prematurely. Most babies spit up (regurgitate) few times in a day and there might be some acid in it. [4]

Common symptoms include:

  • Refusing to feed
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Wheezing or hoarseness
  • Excessive fussiness
  • Small vomiting episodes

In most cases, babies will outgrow this condition as they grow older. However, if the symptoms persist, it is highly advisable to visit a doctor for thorough checkup.

Possible Complications of GERD

The protective layer in the stomach is a defense mechanism that prevents digestion by its own stomach acid. Due to its acidic nature, other organs without the protective layer may be damaged when acid reflux happens.

Some of the possible complications include:

  • Esophagitis – inflammation in the lining of the esophagus
  • Esophageal stricture – the formation of scar tissue resulting in the narrowing of esophagus which leads to difficulty in swallowing
  • Laryngopharyngeal reflux – the flow of acid into the throat resulting in hoarseness and vocal cord growth

Tips for GERD

  • Eating smaller meals – overeating may cause overproduction of stomach acid
  • Eating dinner earlier – to allow digestion to take place before lying down to sleep
  • Sleeping on the left side – this position allows the lower esophageal sphincter to be above the stomach contents [2]
  • Reducing abdominal pressure – wear loose-fitting clothes
  • Quit smoking and alcohol – both tobacco and alcohol will weaken Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES), making the stomach more acidic and slow in digestion


  1. El-Serag HB, Sweet S, Winchester CC, Dent J. Update on the epidemiology of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease: A systematic review. Gut. 2013;63(6):871–80. doi:10.1136/gutjnl-2012-304269
  2. Professional CC medical. Acid reflux & gerd: What to know. Available from:
  3. Lifestyle habits that fuel acid reflux [Internet]. Available from:
  4. GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) in children (2019) Johns Hopkins Medicine. Available from:

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