U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Definition and Facts for GER and GERD

What is GER?

Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) happens when your stomach contents come back up into your esophagus.

Stomach acid that touches the lining of your esophagus can cause heartburn, also called acid indigestion.

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 serious and long-lasting form of GER.

What is the difference between GER and GERD?

GER that occurs more than twice a week for a few weeks could be GERD. GERD can lead to more serious health problems over time. If you think you have GERD, you should see your doctor.​

How common is GERD?

GERD affects about 20 percent of the U.S. population.1

Who is more likely to have GERD?

Anyone can develop GERD, some for unknown reasons. You are more likely to have GERD if you are

What are the complications of GERD?

Without treatment, GERD can sometimes cause serious complications over time, such as


Esophagitis is inflammation in the esophagus. Adults who have chronic esophagitis over many years are more likely to develop precancerous changes in the esophagus.

Esophageal stricture

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

Respiratory problems

With GERD you might breathe stomach acid into your lungs. The stomach acid can then irritate your throat and lungs, causing respiratory problems, such as
  • asthma—a long-lasting disease in your lungs that makes you extra sensitive to things that you’re allergic to
  • chest congestion, or extra fluid in your lungs
  • a dry, long-lasting cough or a sore throat
  • hoarseness—the partial loss of your voice
  • laryngitis—the swelling of your voice box that can lead to a short-term loss of your voice
  • pneumonia—an infection in one or both of your lungs—that keeps coming back
  • wheezing—a high-pitched whistling sound when you breathe

Barrett’s esophagus

GERD can sometimes cause Barrett’s esophagus. A small number of people with Barrett’s esophagus develop a rare yet often deadly type of cancer of the esophagus.
If you have GERD, talk with your doctor about how to prevent or treat long-term problems.​
1El-Serag HB, Petersen NJ, Carter J, et al. Gastroesophageal reflux among different racial groups in the United States. Gastroenterology. 2004;126:1692–1699.

​​​​November 13, 2014​

Digestive Disease Organizations

Many organizations provide support to patients and medical professionals. View the full list of Digestive Disease Organizations​​ (PDF, 341 KB)​​​​​