Most people get heartburn once in a while, but if you have heartburn two or more times per week, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a term used to describe chronic heartburn. Heartburn is caused by stomach acid that backs up into the esophagus (the narrow tube that connects the throat and the stomach). This so-called acid reflux occurs when the valve separating the esophagus and the stomach opens at an inappropriate time.
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This valve malfunction can be caused by certain foods (such as onions and peppermint), overeating, smoking, and alcohol, among other triggers. A burning sensation in the chest and a sour taste in the mouth are the primary symptoms of acid reflux. While heartburn is the main symptom of GERD, some people may have GERD without heartburn. In those cases, symptoms such as chest pain, a chronic cough, hoarseness, and a feeling like something is stuck in throat can be signs of GERD.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, GERD is treated with diet and lifestyle changes, over-the-counter remedies, prescription medications, and/or surgery. It is important to treat GERD, because the disease can damage the esophagus over time.