Definition & Facts for GER & GERD

In this section:

What is GER?

Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) happens when your stomach contents come back up into your esophagus. Many people have GER once in a while, and GER often happens without causing symptoms. In some cases, GER may cause heartburn, also called acid indigestion.

A woman experiencing heartburn and pressing a hand to her chest.Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) may cause heartburn.

Does GER have another name?

Doctors also refer to GER as

  • acid indigestion
  • acid reflux
  • acid regurgitation
  • heartburn
  • reflux

How common is GER?

Having GER once in a while is common.

What is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more severe and long-lasting condition in which GER causes repeated symptoms that are bothersome or leads to complications over time.

If you think you may have GERD, you should see your doctor.

How common is GERD?

Researchers estimate that about 20 percent of people in the United States have GERD.1

Who is more likely to have GERD?

Anyone can develop GERD. You are more likely to have GERD if you

What are the complications of GERD?

Without treatment, GERD can sometimes cause serious complications over time, such as esophagitis, esophageal stricture, and Barrett’s esophagus, as well as complications outside the esophagus.

Esophagitis

Esophagitis is inflammation in the esophagus. Esophagitis may cause ulcers and bleeding in the lining of the esophagus. Chronic esophagitis increases the chance of developing esophageal stricture and Barrett’s esophagus.

Esophageal stricture

An esophageal stricture happens when your esophagus becomes too narrow. Esophageal strictures can lead to problems with swallowing.

Barrett’s esophagus

GERD can sometimes lead to Barrett’s esophagus, a condition in which tissue that is similar to the lining of your intestine replaces the tissue lining your esophagus. A small number of people with Barrett’s esophagus develop a type of cancer called esophageal adenocarcinoma.

Complications outside the esophagus

Some people with GERD develop complications outside the esophagus, in the mouth, throat, or lungs. These complications may include

  • asthma
  • chronic cough
  • hoarseness
  • laryngitis—inflammation of your voice box that can cause you to lose your voice for a short time
  • wearing away of tooth enamel

References

July 2020
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.