Medical Services

What is GERD?

Doctors call it acid reflux. It occurs when acids from the stomach back up into the esophagus—where they don’t belong.

Mercy Iowa City gastroenterologist Joseph Truszkowski, MD, says that if acid reflux persists, it can lead to swelling, ulcers, erosion or scar tissue in the esophagus. This is called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

Heartburn is the most common symptom of GERD, but not the only one. Dr. Truszkowski says that hoarseness, sore throat, an asthma-like cough, difficulty swallowing and even loss of tooth enamel are other possible symptoms. In fact, some people with GERD don’t experience heartburn at all.

Many people can manage mild acid reflux with lifestyle changes or over-the-counter products. Being obese, overeating, smoking, drinking alcohol or caffeine, and wearing tight-fitting clothing can cause heartburn. Chocolate and fatty foods can also trigger it, and some people are sensitive to other foods. Dr. Truszkowski suggests that you see your health care provider if you develop recurring heartburn at age 50 or older, or if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Regurgitating blood; or black, tarry stools
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Any symptoms that don’t respond to a short course of over-the-counter medications