Acid Reflux or GERD: Do You Know the Difference?

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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Acid Reflux

It’s easy to confuse acid reflux and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). They are both common conditions that often cause heartburn, a burning feeling in the chest, and a sour taste in the back of the throat or mouth. But although they are similar, there’s one big difference. While acid reflux doesn’t typically require treatment, you will want to see your doctor if you think you have GERD.

The ABCs of Acid Reflux 

Acid reflux is also called gastroesophageal reflux, or GER. It happens when the contents of the stomach move back into the esophagus, the tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach. The most common symptom is heartburn. 

Most people have acid reflux at one time or another. You can help control acid reflux with the following tips: 

  • Don’t eat for about 2 to 3 hours before bedtime.
  • Don’t eat too much in one sitting.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Skip foods and drinks that can cause acid reflux. These include alcohol, coffee, chocolate, greasy or spicy foods, peppermint, and tomato products like spaghetti sauce.

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Try using antacids like Alka-Seltzer, Mylanta and Rolaids. 

If you have acid reflux more than twice a week for a couple of weeks, you could have GERD. 

When It’s GERD

GERD is a more serious type of acid reflux. It occurs when the valve between the esophagus and the stomach is weak or does not work correctly. In some cases, other problems with the digestive system, such as hiatal hernias, can also cause GERD. 

There are some factors that increase your risk for developing GERD. These include:

  • Being overweight
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking or inhaling secondhand smoke
  • Taking certain medicines, such as antidepressants, antihistamines, asthma medication, pain relievers, and sedatives

Symptoms of GERD

The most common symptom of GERD is heartburn. But some people with GERD never have heartburn. GERD can also cause the following symptoms:

If you think you may have GERD, see your doctor. He or she may suggest tests to see whether GERD is causing your symptoms. Left untreated, GERD can lead to serious complications, such as inflammation in the esophagus, narrowing of the esophagus, and respiratory problems.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 May 7
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

  1. Gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) in adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

  2. Katz PO, Gerson LB, Vela MF. Guidelines for the diagnosis and management of gastroesophageal reflux disease. American Journal of Gastroenterology. 2013;108:308-328.