What Are The Serious Symptoms Of Acid Reflux And GERD

Acid Reflux, GERD & Heartburns: When To Seek Emergency Medical Attention

What Is GERD?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition where stomach acid consistently flows back into the esophagus, the conduit linking your mouth and stomach. This process, known as acid reflux, can cause irritation and damage to the esophageal lining. 

While occasional acid reflux is a common experience for many, persistent and frequent reflux can escalate into GERD, leading to more serious health issues if left unaddressed.

Key Symptoms of GERD Are Easy to Spot and Include:

  • Heartburn: A burning feeling in your chest, also known as heartburn, typically occurs after meals and might get worse at night or when you’re lying down.
  • Regurgitation: The unpleasant sensation of food or a sour liquid coming back up into your throat or mouth.
  • Acidic or Sour Taste: Persistent sour or acidic tastes in the mouth can indicate regurgitation of stomach acid.
  • Chest Pain: Pain in the upper part of your stomach or chest. While GERD-related chest pain can mimic heart-related chest pain (angina), it typically occurs after meals or at night. 
  • Dysphagia: Difficulty swallowing, which can feel like food is stuck in your throat.
  • Feeling like there’s a lump in your throat that won’t go away.
  • Chronic Cough: A persistent cough can be a sign of GERD, especially at night. It may result from stomach acid irritating the airways.
  • Hoarseness: GERD can cause irritation and inflammation of the vocal cords, leading to a chronic hoarse voice.
  • Wheezing: In some cases, GERD can trigger or exacerbate asthma symptoms, causing wheezing or breathlessness.
  • Difficulty Sleeping: GERD symptoms are often worse when lying down, making it difficult to get a restful night’s sleep.

Recognizing these indicators is crucial for timely diagnosis and management, especially if you want to avoid emergency medical care.

When Should You Go To An ER For Acid Reflux or GERD?

People with acid reflux might think that other symptoms happening at the same time are just part of reflux. But if you’re having symptoms that are more than just the usual heartburn, it’s not something to ignore. These extra symptoms could be a sign of a more serious problem, so it’s important to take them seriously and possibly check in with a doctor.

These symptoms accompanying acid reflux (or any time) should always mean a trip to the emergency room:

  • Squeezing/tightening in the chest
  • Feeling out of breath
  • Pain, aching, or discomfort radiating from the chest to the arms, back, or neck
  • Sudden fatigue, dizziness, or feeling lightheaded
  • Cold sweat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Arm pain
  • Feeling confused or sudden weakness
  • When the reflux moves/relocates from how you typically experience it
  • Fainting/loss of consciousness, even briefly
  • Vomit that has blood in it or is black
  • Stool that is black and/or accompanied by blood

Even if it is not a heart attack, it could be angina or another issue that needs to be addressed quickly.

Infographic that explains the diagnosing GERD
GERD Infographic

What to Do During an Acid Reflux Attack

If you’re dealing with an acid reflux flare-up, it can feel quite uncomfortable. However, there are steps you can take to feel better. Here’s what you can do:

Maintain an Upright Position: Stay seated or standing to use gravity to your advantage, preventing stomach acids from rising.

Identify and Avoid Trigger Foods: Steer clear of known irritants like spicy foods, citrus, and caffeine which can exacerbate reflux.

Opt for Smaller, Frequent Meals: Eating large meals can increase stomach pressure; smaller meals reduce this risk.

Elevate Your Bed: Raising the head of your bed can prevent acid from flowing back while you’re lying down.

Stay Relaxed: Stress can worsen reflux symptoms; find calming activities that work for you.

Avoid Lying Down After Eating: Wait at least two to three hours before lying down to prevent acid from moving upward.

Consult a Healthcare Professional: If attacks are frequent or severe, seeking medical advice can provide you with tailored strategies and possible treatment options.

What To Do If You’re Experiencing Severe Heartburn Symptoms

When in doubt about acid reflux, it is always better to be cautious and get it checked out at The Emergency Center, which has the tools and experts needed to determine the right diagnosis and start treatment.

The Emergency Center has diagnostic capabilities like ECG and advanced CT imaging to diagnose or rule out heart attack. Additionally, with an onsite lab and pharmacy, patients can find answers without the wait and get needed prescriptions before leaving. Whether it ends up being just a bad case of heartburn or something more serious, getting evaluated is the first step in finding both care and something equally as important: peace of mind.

Woman With Serious Symptoms Of Acid Reflux In Texas

Causes & Triggers of GERD

GERD can have various causes and triggers that contribute to the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) and the onset of reflux symptoms. Understanding these factors is essential for managing the condition on time. 

Here are some of the most common causes and triggers:

  • Hiatal Hernia: A hiatal hernia is when part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm into the chest cavity. This can disrupt the normal function of the LES and contribute to GERD.
  • Dietary Choices: Certain foods and beverages are known to relax the LES or stimulate acid production. Common triggers include spicy, fatty, and acidic food. Caffeine, alcohol, and citrus fruits also trigger the GERD symptoms.
  • Overeating: Large meals can put pressure on the stomach, causing it to push acid into the esophagus.
  • Lying Down After Eating: Going to bed or reclining too soon after a meal can allow stomach acid to flow back into the esophagus, worsening symptoms.
  • Obesity: Excess body weight, particularly in the abdominal area, can increase abdominal pressure and contribute to GERD.
  • Smoking: Smoking weakens the LES and increases stomach acid production, making it a significant risk factor for GERD.
  • Pregnancy: Hormonal changes and increased abdomen pressure during pregnancy can lead to GERD symptoms in some women.
  • Certain Medications: Some drugs, including calcium channel blockers, antihistamines, and certain asthma medications, can relax the LES or irritate the esophagus, potentially leading to GERD.
  • Delayed Stomach Emptying: Conditions like gastroparesis, where the stomach takes longer to empty its contents, can increase the risk of GERD.
  • Stress: While stress itself may not directly cause GERD, it can exacerbate symptoms if you’re already prone to the condition.
  • Genetics: Some people may have a genetic predisposition to GERD, making them more susceptible to the disease.

If you suspect you have GERD, feel free to complete this quiz so you can be more informed about your symptoms and current condition. Remember that this is only a general quiz, we still recommend visiting a doctor.

Diagnosing GERD

Diagnosing Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) involves a combination of medical history assessment, physical examination, and, in some cases, specific tests to confirm the diagnosis and assess the severity of the condition. 

Here’s an overview of the diagnostic process:

Medical History: The healthcare provider will begin by discussing your symptoms, frequency, and duration. They will also inquire about your lifestyle, eating habits, and any medications you may be taking.

Physical Examination: The doctor may perform a physical examination to check for signs of GERD, such as listening to your chest and throat for unusual sounds or examining your throat for irritation.

Trial of Medication: In some cases, the doctor or healthcare provider may recommend a trial of acid-suppressing medications, like proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or H2-receptor antagonists, to see if symptom relief occurs. If symptoms improve with medication, it can provide further evidence of GERD.

Endoscopy: The doctor may suggest an upper endoscopy if your symptoms persist. During this procedure, a flexible tube with a camera (endoscope) is inserted through the mouth and into the esophagus and stomach. This allows the doctor to visually inspect the esophagus for signs of inflammation or damage.

Esophageal pH Monitoring: In some cases, pH monitoring may be necessary to measure the acid in the esophagus over 24 hours. This test can help confirm the diagnosis and assess the frequency of acid reflux.

Barium Swallow: This test involves drinking a contrast material (barium) and then undergoing X-rays to visualize the esophagus, which can reveal abnormalities.

GERD Questionnaires: Your healthcare provider may use standardized questionnaires to assess GERD symptoms and their impact on your quality of life.

Management & Treatment of GERD

Managing Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) involves lifestyle changes, medications, and, in severe cases, surgery.

Lifestyle Modifications

  • Avoid trigger foods like caffeine, alcohol, and spicy or fatty foods.
  • Maintain a healthy weight to reduce abdominal pressure.
  • Elevate the head of your bed and avoid lying down right after meals.


  • Over-the-counter antacids offer short-term relief by neutralizing stomach acid.
  • H2-receptor antagonists like ranitidine reduce acid production.
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), such as omeprazole, effectively reduce acid production and heal esophagitis.


  • In severe cases, surgical options like fundoplication or LINX may be necessary to reinforce the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).

Understanding Bile Reflux: A Related Concern in Acid Reflux Disorders

Bile reflux, while often associated with acid reflux, is a distinct condition that deserves attention, especially when discussing serious symptoms of acid reflux. Unlike acid reflux, which involves the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus, bile reflux involves bile—a digestive fluid produced in the liver—flowing into the stomach and esophagus. Here’s what you need to know about bile reflux within the context of acid reflux disorders:

Distinct Symptoms: Bile reflux can cause a persistent cough, hoarseness, and episodes of nausea, distinguishing it from typical acid reflux symptoms. If you’re experiencing these alongside traditional acid reflux signs, it could indicate bile reflux.

Potential for Damage: Just as stomach acid can erode the esophagus in acid reflux, bile can damage the lining of the stomach and esophagus, leading to serious conditions like Barrett’s esophagus or esophageal cancer.

Diagnostic Importance: If your acid reflux treatments aren’t working, or if you’re experiencing unusual symptoms, it might be time to investigate bile reflux. This condition often requires specific diagnostic tests, such as endoscopy or bile monitoring techniques.

Complications & Long-Term Outlook

Complications arising from untreated or poorly managed Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) can severely impact a person’s health, hence the importance of staying alert to the initial symptoms.

Let’s check the outline of potential complications and the long-term outlook associated with GERD:


Untreated GERD can lead to inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis), which may cause pain, difficulty swallowing, and, in severe cases, bleeding or ulcers in the esophageal lining.


Repeated exposure to stomach acid can result in the narrowing of the esophagus (strictures), making it difficult to swallow.

Barrett’s Esophagus

We’ve already mentioned this condition before, as it’s probably one of the most common regarding GERD. It happens when chronic acid reflux causes changes in the cells lining the esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus is a risk factor for esophageal cancer, although the risk is relatively low.

Respiratory Issues

GERD can trigger or worsen respiratory conditions such as asthma, chronic cough, and pneumonia due to constant inhalation of stomach contents into the lungs.

The long-term outlook of GERD depends on the severity of the condition, the effectiveness of management, and the presence of complications. You can manage their symptoms effectively and prevent complications with proper treatment and lifestyle adjustments. 

However, regular monitoring and follow-up with a healthcare provider are essential to ensure the best possible long-term outcome.

Man seated on a couch, clutching his stomach in discomfort, indicative of symptoms of acid reflux

Conclusion: Navigating the Complexities of Acid Reflux and GERD Symptoms for Better Health Outcomes

In conclusion, understanding the serious symptoms of acid reflux and GERD is crucial for timely intervention and treatment. While heartburn and regurgitation are common signs, the presence of symptoms like chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and nighttime disturbances signals the need for a more in-depth evaluation. Knowing when to seek emergency medical attention is essential, especially when symptoms mimic those of more severe conditions. Proactive management through dietary adjustments, lifestyle changes, and medical treatment can significantly mitigate the risks associated with GERD. Remember, maintaining open communication with your healthcare provider and addressing symptoms early can prevent the progression of GERD and ensure a better quality of life.

Enjoy life. We’ll be here for the bumps along the way. ™


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The Emergency Center

San Antonio
11320 Alamo Ranch Pkwy
San Antonio, TX 78253

Phone: 210-485-3644