There are a number of symptoms of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (often just called reflux or GORD) with the most noticeable being heartburn. It is estimated that about one third of adults experience heartburn at least once a month, with about 15 to 20 per cent of the population having heartburn at least once a week and 5 per cent at least daily.
Heartburn is a burning pain that is generally felt in the chest area behind the breastbone. The burning pain moves upwards during an episode of reflux. It can sometimes be felt in the throat. The pain of heartburn is usually provoked by eating or by bending over or straining.
Other symptoms of reflux include the following.
Regurgitation of food or fluid into the mouth. This often leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. You may not be aware of bringing up anything, just a bitter taste which appears in your mouth.
Waterbrash is the sudden appearance of an excess of salty or tasteless fluid in the mouth. This fluid is caused by an excessive production of saliva.
Many people with reflux suffer from excessive belching or burping.
Chest pain that can be similar to the pain associated with a heart attack is another symptom of reflux that is generally caused by acid reflux from the stomach into the oesophagus. Always remember that your doctor should check any chest pain, even if it is associated with a gastrointestinal disorder, to make sure that the pain is not caused by a heart condition.
Hoarseness or change in voice can occur when stomach acid reaches the mouth and throat causing laryngitis. You may wake up with a hoarse voice because you had reflux during the night and find that your voice gets better during the day.
Sore throat or dry cough. This is caused by the acidic stomach contents irritating the throat.
Night-time coughing or choking can happen when the stomach contents enter the windpipe and the lungs while you are sleeping. You may wake up suddenly feeling that you are choking.
In some people with asthma, the symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath are made worse by reflux. Often treating the reflux condition will greatly improve the asthmatic symptoms.
In some cases of reflux, there may be difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia) or pain when swallowing (odynophagia). The pain is felt as the mouthful of food is swallowed and travels down the oesophagus. The pain may be caused by ulceration of the oesophagus brought about by it being exposed to acid over time. The pain may also be accompanied by a feeling that the food has got stuck in the oesophagus. This feeling of a blockage is sometimes due to narrowing (a stricture) of the oesophagus. This is a serious symptom and you should seek medical advice.
This is not a common symptom of reflux and usually happens only in severe cases. Bleeding in the oesophagus can cause vomiting of blood that is bright red or has the appearance of coffee grounds. This is also a serious symptom requiring medical attention.
If you have any concerns or are experiencing some or all of the symptoms of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, see your doctor.
Last Reviewed: 03 June 2011