Gastroesophageal reflux: More than just heartburn

Heartburn is the first sign of a gastric disorder that shouldn't be ignored.

We've all seen television ads pushing remedies to relieve heartburn, or acid indigestion, the searing pain up the middle of the chest that sometimes follows a meal or crops up when we're under stress. Heartburn symptoms run the gamut from annoying to debilitating. At their worst, they can even be mistaken for a heart attack.

The cause of heartburn is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition in which acidified stomach contents flow back from the stomach into the food pipe (esophagus). Heartburn is usually felt in the chest just below the breastbone (sternum) but can extend upward to the neck. It may be accompanied by a sour taste in the mouth or a stinging sensation in the throat. An irritated esophagus may also produce pain behind the sternum that feels as if food is stuck there.

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