The symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, known as GERD, are provoked by leaking of stomach contents into the esophagus, according to the American Gastroenterological Association. GERD is diagnosed when symptoms are suffered more than twice weekly. Symptoms of GERD on an empty stomach may be indicative of an underlying condition such as pregnancy or hiatal hernia.
Heartburn is described as a burning pain that originates in the center of the chest under the breastbone. The reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus causes this pain; the cells of the esophagus are not meant to handle excessive acid content like those of the stomach. According to MedlinePlus, heartburn can be positional, increasing with a supine, or lying down, position or bending at the waist. Heartburn is sometimes worse at night but will dissipate with the use of antacids.
For those who do not suffer heartburn, a common symptom of GERD is the presence of a dry, nonproductive cough. Especially seen in children under the age of 12, this chronic cough is the result of stomach acid erosion on the airways. If untreated, the acid can induce asthma-like symptoms, including bronchial spasms and wheezing. Like heartburn, a cough from GERD may be worse at night.
On an empty stomach, raw acid can travel all the way up the esophagus to the mouth. This reflux can cause a bad taste in the mouth or foul smelling breath, especially upon waking. According to MedlinePlus, untreated GERD can lead to dentition problems, including cavities. Erosion of the teeth begins at a pH around 5.5, whereas the pH of gastric, or stomach, acid is at or below 2.0, according to a 2002 article in the "Journal of the American Dental Association."
Is This an Emergency?
- MedlinePlus: Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease
- American Gastroenterological Association: GERD
- "Journal of the American Dental Association"; Dental Erosion Caused by Silent Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease; Dena A. Ali, D.D.S., et al.; 2002