Acid Reflux Signs and Symptoms

Here's a quick overview of acid reflux symptoms as well as the signs you need help.

Acid reflux, medically known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), is a common condition that causes stomach contents to flow back into the esophagus, the tube that connects the stomach and throat. 

Acid reflux happens when the lower esophageal sphincter — a group of muscles that form a valve for the stomach — relaxes too much or becomes weak, so it’s no longer able to effectively prevent the stomach’s contents to flow back up to your esophagus. This can cause symptoms like pain and burning in the chest and burning in the throat. 

While occasional acid reflux usually isn’t something to be concerned about, having acid reflux symptoms two or more times a week could be a sign of a more serious condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Here are seven signs and symptoms of acid reflux and GERD to look out for. 

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Heartburn is the most common sign of acid reflux. It feels like a burning feeling in the upper chest, rising from behind the breastbone to the bottom of the throat, that is caused by stomach acid traveling up towards the throat.

Heartburn usually happens after eating, especially after consuming large, rich meals and may be accompanied by excessive belching. Certain foods and beverages like alcohol, coffee, tomato sauce, chocolate, spicy foods, and peppermint can trigger heartburn. 

In some cases, acid reflux causes sharp chest pains.  

Chest pain can also be a sign of a more serious condition, like a heart attack, so it’s important to contact your healthcare provider if you experience chest pain. 


If you have acid reflux, you may experience a sour taste in your mouth from your stomach acids. This taste, along with the frequent burping and coughing associated with reflux and GERD, can create nausea and even vomiting in some cases. 

Nausea can also be caused by an increase in the production of stomach acid from the irritation of the esophagus and throat by stomach acids. Nausea can happen on its own or occur alongside other symptoms like heartburn, bloating, and belching.

As with other signs of acid reflux, frequent nausea may be a sign of GERD or other medical conditions.


Another telltale sign of acid reflux is regurgitation, which is when stomach contents flow back through the esophagus and into the throat and mouth. 

This can feel like burning, warm liquid built up in the throat and the back of the mouth, which leaves a bitter aftertaste. What is coming back up can include undigested food and drink along with stomach acid and a yellowish-greenish liquid called bile.

Regurgitation is not uncommon, but frequent regurgitation may be a sign of GERD and may irritate the lining of your stomach, esophagus, and throat.

Persistent Cough

Repeated acid reflux can cause your esophagus, larynx, or voice box to become irritated by repeated exposure to stomach acid, which can cause you to develop a chronic cough, wheezing, and other breathing difficulties.

Although occasional acid reflux could make you cough, a chronic cough is usually a sign of GERD.

Hoarse Voice

Because the voice box can be affected by repeated exposure to stomach acid, people with acid reflux and GERD can experience discomfort when speaking as well as a sore throat and changes to their voice.

Hoarseness due to acid reflux and GERD is usually worse in the morning and gets better throughout the day.

Difficulty Swallowing

As stomach acid travels up through the esophagus and into the throat, it may irritate and eventually damage the larynx, which plays a critical role in breathing, speaking, and swallowing.

The issues with swallowing issues are typically seen in people with GERD. GERD can cause issues with the upper esophageal sphincter (UES) — a zone located between the esophagus and the back of the throat—as well as esophagus hypersensitivity to stomach acid, which can also lead to swallowing issues.

Frequent Asthma Attacks

In some cases, asthma and acid reflux can occur together. It isn't clear why, but it's known that acid reflux can worsen asthma and asthma can worsen acid reflux. 

Acid reflux can also trigger bronchospasm, which is a tightening of the muscles that line your airways. Bronchospasm can worsen underlying asthma, which can cause symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and difficulty breathing. 

Acid reflux may be the trigger if your asthma gets worse after meals, lying down, or exercising.

While asthma can be managed with the use of medicated inhalers, it can be dangerous or fatal if left untreated. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

People who experience occasional acid reflux symptoms don't usually require medical attention. Lifestyle and diet modification and over-the-counter antacids can help ease symptoms. 

However, frequent acid reflux may be a sign of GERD, which requires medical attention.

If you’re experiencing acid reflux two or more times a week, contact your healthcare provider. They can rule out more serious conditions and recommend an appropriate treatment plan. 

Some symptoms could be a sign of GERD complications or other conditions that require immediate medical attention. Contact your doctor right away if you experience any of the following:

  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing during attacks
  • Chest pains
  • Trouble swallowing, painful swallowing
  • Blood in your vomit or stool (poop that looks black or tar-like) 
  • Rapid weight loss

A Quick Review

An occasional bout of heartburn after a heavy meal is likely more of an annoyance than a significant medical issue. But chronic and persistent acid reflux, known as GERD, can have a negative impact on your health.

The most common signs of acid reflux include heartburn and regurgitation. Other symptoms like coughing and difficulty swallowing may indicate GERD.

If you experience frequent or severe symptoms, it’s important to visit your healthcare provider to get the appropriate diagnosis and care. 

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