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What Causes GERD to Develop?

What Causes GERD to Develop?

A gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD occurs when stomach acids flow back into your esophagus and cause damage. This backflow of stomach acid is commonly known as acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux. But when damage happens to the esophagus and more symptoms appear, doctors refer to it as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. The condition can be treated using medication; however, surgery might be needed if medications do not help ease your condition. Let us dive in and find out what causes GERD to develop.

What Is GERD?

The most common symptoms of Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, are heartburn and regurgitation. GERD happens when the stomach acid constantly regurgitates towards the esophagus, irritating its lining.

People who have GERD suffer from acid reflux symptoms more frequently, which results in more damage to the esophageal tissue.

What Are the Symptoms of GERD?

GERD symptoms include:

  • Heartburn
  • Regurgitation
  • Stomach pain (pain in the upper abdomen)
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing (called dysphagia) or pain on swallowing (called odynophagia)
  • Persistent laryngitis/hoarseness (due to the acid irritating the vocal cords)
  • Persistent sore throat or cough
  • Sense of a lump in the throat
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

Take note that when you feel chronic pain in your chest and abdomen, shortness of breath, as well as tightness and cramping in your arms, jaw, and back, then you may be suffering from a heart attack. This condition is a medical emergency that requires prompt intervention.

What Causes GERD to Develop?

GERD takes place due to the weakening of a muscle known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When the LES malfunctions and does not shut tightly enough, stomach acid escapes and backs up towards your esophagus.

Here are the factors that trigger the LES to weaken, and the known reasons for what causes GERD to develop:

Being Overweight or Obese

Excess fat in your body puts additional pressure on your abdomen, triggering stomach acid to backflow.


Acid reflux and GERD are also common in pregnant women since changes in hormones during pregnancy slows down the digestive system. These hormones also delay the transport of food down the esophagus.

Also, the growing fetus inside a mother’s womb puts excess pressure on the mother’s stomach, causing frequent heartburn.

Food Triggers

Some foods and beverages can trigger or worsen heartburns and other GERD symptoms. Food triggers include mints, spicy, fatty and acidic foods, caffeinated and carbonated beverages, as well as chocolates.

Spicy foods contain capsaicin, which slows down digestion while coffee and chocolate relax the LES resulting in stomach acid leakage.

Smoking and Alcohol Abuse

Some of the most common factors on what causes GERD to develop are vices like alcohol abuse and smoking. Impulsive alcohol consumption causes direct damage to the esophageal and gastric mucosa. Also, the other properties found in alcohol can cause the esophagus and stomach to malfunction.

On the other hand, the nicotine found in tobacco relaxes the LES, causing stomach acid to slip away.

Certain Medications

Some medications can aggravate acid reflux and other GERD symptoms. These medications include painkillers, sedatives, antidepressants, antihistamines, calcium channel blockers, and asthma medications.

Hiatal Hernia

This is a condition where the upper part of your stomach protrudes through an opening in your diaphragm into your chest cavity. A hiatal hernia hinders the LES to function well, causing GERD.

What Are the Complications of GERD?

Complications may arise when GERD is not treated immediately. These complications include:

  • Esophagitis. Inflammation or irritation of the esophagus due to persistent reflux.
  • Esophageal stricture. When you’ve been experiencing GERD for a long time, its symptoms can cause inflammation in your esophagus. The inflammation may result in scarring and narrowing of the esophageal lumen, which can cause difficulties in swallowing.
  • Adult-onset asthma. When stomach acid reaches the lungs because of GERD, it can trigger an asthma episode, or worse, aspiration pneumonia.
  • Barret’s esophagus. It is a condition in which the lining of the esophagus becomes damaged by stomach acid, causing it to thicken and become swollen. Having Barrett’s esophagus increases your risk of developing esophageal adenocarcinoma, a debilitating and lethal type of esophageal cancer.

How to Manage GERD

You can manage or prevent GERD from becoming severe by making lifestyle changes, like:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a proper and healthy diet frequently and in controlled portions
  • Avoiding late-night meals or snacks
  • Sleep on an elevated surface to prevent nighttime heartburns
  • Refrain from lying down after eating (wait for about 2 to 3 hours)
  • Quit smoking and alcohol abuse
  • Avoid foods that trigger acid reflux
  • Do not wear tight-fitting clothes that put pressure on your waist or stomach

Key Takeaways

GERD is a curable condition, however, with neglect, GERD can become more severe and result in lethal diseases like cancer. Now that you’re fully aware of what causes GERD to develop, it will be easier for you to control the triggers and look for treatments that can give relief to your condition.

If the medications and treatments that your doctor gave you do not succeed in treating your condition, then they may advise you to undergo surgery.

Learn more about GERD here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)/ Heartburn https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/g/gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-gerdheartburn.html Accessed August 31, 2020

Symptoms and Causes of GER and GERD https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults/symptoms-causes Accessed August 31, 2020

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gerd/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20361959 Accessed August 31, 2020

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/hw99177 Accessed August 31, 2020

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/gerd.html Accessed August 31, 2020

Causes of GERD https://www.aboutgerd.org/introduction-to-gerd/causes-of-gerd.html Accessed August 31, 2020

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Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao Updated 3 weeks ago
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel