Severe GERD Symptoms: A Patient's Point of View

Updated on September 16, 2017
promisem profile image

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who formerly suffered from acid reflux.

Severe GERD symptoms usually begin with frequent heartburn, but other symptoms also point toward this potentially dangerous disease.

Many people have occasional heartburn, which by itself is not a GERD symptom. If heartburn arrives more often, and other physical ailments start to arise as well, individuals should see their doctors to find out if the diagnosis is GERD. In my case, that's what the doctor diagnosed.

These four simple letters stand for gastroesophageal reflux disease, a digestive disorder also known as acid reflux. But identifying and treating the disease is not so simple.

GERD is a digestive ailment with many potential causes and symptoms that in some cases will appear slowly over time as a result of the aging process, changes in diet, the development of food sensitivities and other factors.

Other potential causes, such as obesity, smoking, and the use of certain medications, vary from one person to another.

The good news is that severe GERD symptoms can be treated successfully simply through diet changes or a combination of diet and medication for more advanced conditions. Some severe symptoms can be treated by diet alone. I was lucky enough to eliminate my symptoms by changing my diet.

The bad news is that if left untreated, GERD can cause some long-term damage to the body, especially the esophagus. More extreme cases may require surgery.

Heartburn is one of the most common symptoms. © Scott Bateman
Heartburn is one of the most common symptoms. © Scott Bateman

Heartburn Poll

How often do you suffer from heartburn?

See results

Heartburn: The Most Common Symptom

My increasing bouts with heartburn was the first warning sign. Heartburn is that nasty burning sensation that rises up in the throat and seems to take forever to go away.

It often happens at night or first thing in the morning when people are lying down in bed. It also happens after eating a meal with acidic foods or drinking beverages that are acidic, especially coffee, wine, and colas. I was a moderate drinker of all three.

More than 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn once a month and as many as 15 million may have it once a day, according to the American College of Gastroenterology.

Heartburn occurs if too much stomach fluid comes in contact with the lining of the esophagus over a period of time.

These fluids consist of acid, digestive enzymes, and other matter that can inflame or injure the esophagus.

This interaction between the esophagus and stomach fluids then results in a burning sensation known as heartburn or acid indigestion. The burning sensation typically occurs in the throat.

The human body has a way of preventing the contact that takes place between the stomach acid and the esophagus.

A valve at the base of the esophagus normally prevents the acid from moving up from the stomach. When the valve doesn't function correctly, the result can be mild to severe cases of GERD.

The valve may even move up into the chest, which results in a hiatal hernia, according to the Society of Thoracic Surgeons.

Frequent coughing is one sympton of severe GERD. Coppyright Scott Bateman
Frequent coughing is one sympton of severe GERD. Coppyright Scott Bateman

When Heartburn Becomes GERD

In the case of GERD, the valve relaxes too often or at the wrong times, which allows the acid to flow back up.

When someone experiences heartburn two or more times a week, the frequency indicates the possibility of GERD.

Other symptoms include:

  • Trouble swallowing or a sensation that food is trapped behind the breastbone

  • Having black or tarry bowel movements

  • Weight loss

  • A choking sensation, shortness of breath, coughing or a hoarse voice, all indications that stomach acid has moved up the windpipe.
  • Bad breath
  • Vomiting blood

For some people, even sitting a certain way with a tight belt can aggravate the condition.

GERD symptoms aren't limited to adults. They can occur in children and infants as well. Their symptoms include:

  • Trouble with breathing
  • Frequent coughing
  • Recurring vomiting
  • A failure to thrive

Symptoms often appear more often after eating. Their severity depends on the types of food or beverages consumed and whether they are strong triggers, such as coffee.

Trouble swallowing is another symptom of GERD. Copyright Scott Bateman
Trouble swallowing is another symptom of GERD. Copyright Scott Bateman

Severe GERD Symptoms

Although vomiting blood is one of the more severe symptoms, others from the above list can become severe based on their frequency, duration or intensity.

Heartburn can go from infrequent to several times a week or occurring every day.

Shortness of breath or trouble swallowing episodes may last for hours.

In fact, shortness of breath may be so severe that it results in a diagnosis of asthma that requires a ventilator.

Vomiting blood requires immediate attention by a doctor. Copyright Scott Bateman
Vomiting blood requires immediate attention by a doctor. Copyright Scott Bateman

Chest Pains: GERD or Heart Attack?

One of the more common symptoms of GERD is chest pain. But it also is a symptom of a possible heart attack.

Seek immediate medical attention if the chest pain includes other signs such as shortness of breath, jaw pain or arm pain.

One of the more common symptoms of GERD is chest pain. But it also is a symptom of a possible heart attack.

Diagnosis

Although self diagnosis is possible, any of these symptoms that become frequent or severe need diagnosis by a doctor.

If left untreated, GERD may lead to serious digestive damage, especially to the esophagus.

GERD has been known to cause severe chest pain that seem like a heart attack.

The esophagus may narrow, show more bleeding or result in a change in the lining called Barrett's esophagus.

More dangerously, people who suffered severe and prolonged heartburn over many years were at a higher risk of developing esophageal cancer, according to a study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Mayo Clinic Video

Treatment

A number of home remedies are available that may help relieve GERD and heartburn symptoms.

  • Change sleeping habits. Elevate the head of the bed by using an extra pillow so that stomach acids don't rise up in the throat as easily. Don't go to bed within two hours of eating. Lying down on the couch to watch TV after eating an acidic meal also can trigger the symptoms.

  • Change eating habits. Avoid acidic foods and beverages such as citrus, tomatoes, wine, coffee, and colas.

  • Reduce or end alcohol. It affects the valve in the esophagus that controls the backflow of stomach acids. Numerous studies have found an association between GERD and alcohol, especially heavy consumption of it.

  • Reduce or end smoking. Smoking also affects that valve.

When lifestyle changes are not enough, medicines will help. A variety of over-the-counter treatments are available. Discuss the best options with your pharmacist after discussing treatment options with your doctor.

When such over-the-counter and lifestyle options are not enough, a variety of prescription medications are available.

And when prescriptions are not enough, certain surgical procedures may be required.

The most common form of surgery for treating GERD is fundoplication. The surgeon makes a large incision in the abdomen for open surgery or a few small cuts for a version called laparoscopic, which involves the use of tools inserted into the abdomen.

During the procedure, the surgeon sews the top part of the stomach around the lower esophagus to tighten it and help slow acid from flowing up from the stomach.

Vomiting is one of the more severe symptoms of GERD.
Vomiting is one of the more severe symptoms of GERD. | Source

Make Diet Changes Now

For anyone who suspects the onset of GERD, one of the best and simplest ways to treat potential symptoms is with a diet plan.

Some people find that making a food journal is a good way of tracking what they are eating or drinking and especially in what quantities.

Another way is simply identifying some of the top potential triggers—including colas, coffee, acidic foods—and then cutting back on them one at a time to see if any of the changes help.

When I cut back on coffee, wine, and colas, I saw an almost immediate improvement in my symptoms.

For anyone who suspects the onset of GERD, one of the best and simplest ways to treat potential symptoms is with a diet plan.

Severe Symptoms Require Doctor's Care

If any of the above symptoms become severe, seek medical attention immediately.

Also seek medical care if mild symptoms do not improve as a result of making dietary changes.

Questions & Answers

    © 2014 Scott S Bateman

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • promisem profile imageAUTHOR

        Scott S Bateman 

        3 years ago

        I'm truly sorry you ended up with Barrett's. I didn't get it, but my symptoms got to the point where I had severe problems with breathing and dizziness. I had to use two inhalers to deal with it.

        Like you, the main culprits turned out to be coffee and soda along with the aging process and a bad diet. I got rid of coffee and soda and ate a lot more fruits and vegetables that have anti-inflammation nutrients. Now I'm almost symptom free.

        Thanks for your comments and best of luck.

      • lions44 profile image

        CJ Kelly 

        3 years ago from Auburn, WA

        Very important article. Thx for getting the word out. I have Barrett's and have been treated for over a decade (will eventually need surgery). My esophagus was in bad shape from too much black coffee and too much orange juice. And the biggest culprit was soda. I stopped both OJ and the soda all together. Don't miss it. Added milk to the coffee. Great tips. Sleeping is enormously helpful. Voted up and shared.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, healdove.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://healdove.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)