Last updated: Jan 26, 2010
For most people, heartburn is an annoying—but usually brief—problem triggered by too much wine, smoking, spicy food, or other overindulgence. But for some people, heartburn is a painful and constant companion. If youre in the second group, your chronic heartburn could be the sign of something more serious—gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.

GERD is characterized by unrelenting acid reflux that can result in not only heartburn, but other symptoms as well, such as chronic cough. If you think you might have GERD, its important to get help. Over time, GERD can damage the lower esophagus and can lead to a precancerous condition known as Barretts esophagus. Left untreated, Barretts esophagus can raise the risk of esophageal cancer.

However, GERD can be tricky—not all people with chronic heartburn have GERD, and you can have GERD but not necessarily have chronic heartburn as your main symptom. Whats more, stomach or chest pain can be caused by other conditions, such as an ulcer.

To find out if your symptoms might be due to GERD, take this test.