Chronic Symptoms of Heartburn May Signal GERD

For Immediate Release

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MILWAUKEE, WI (November 17, 2003) - If you turn to antacids for dessert after every meal, you may have a more serious condition than heartburn. Many people who suffer from GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease) do not know they have it, or mistake it for common heartburn and simply rely on over-the-counter medications such as antacids for relief. However, if ignored or not properly diagnosed by a physician, GERD can sometimes lead to severe complications.

The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) cautions the public that self-treatment of chronic heartburn may actually be "covering up" symptoms of a more serious disease: GERD. This is the focus of GERD Awareness Week, which falls the week of Thanksgiving, November 23-29, 2003.

"It is very encouraging that the public has access to so many effective prescription and over-the-counter treatments, but self-diagnosis can lead to serious health problems," said Nancy J. Norton, president and founder of IFFGD. "For individuals who suffer persistent heartburn or other chronic and recurrent symptoms of GERD, it is essential to see a physician to receive an accurate diagnosis and the most appropriate treatment."

GERD occurs when there is an abnormal reflux of stomach acid into the esophagus because the muscle between the two does not close properly. Common symptoms that may require a physician evaluation include:

Chronic or persistent heartburn (burning discomfort that begins behind the breastbone), and
Acid indigestion/regurgitation (bitter, sour tasting fluid).

Other symptoms may include frequent belching, difficulty swallowing, chronic irritation in the throat or hoarseness in the morning.

Check Your Family Tree

GERD Awareness Week falls on Thanksgiving week, a time during which many Americans visit with family members. Patients who suffer from chronic heartburn or other long-term GERD-related symptoms should take this opportunity to talk with relatives to determine their risks. Recent research suggests that genetic factors may account for approximately 30 percent of the risk for reflux, as researchers have noticed high GERD prevalence rates between generations. In one study, participants with a first-degree relative with GERD were twice as likely to have GERD themselves.

"According to our research, different genes or familial factors are involved in the development of these specific symptom complexes," said G. Richard Locke, M.D., Associate Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minn., who presented his findings at the International Symposium on Neurogastroenterology and Motility this past October. "If individuals have a family history of reflux complications and also experience chronic symptoms, it is especially important that they see a doctor."

GERD is a chronic condition that currently affects more than 21 million Americans, and an estimated 5 to 7 percent of the global population -- men, women, and children. It is characterized by symptoms or damage resulting from repeated or prolonged exposure of the lining of the esophagus to acid from the stomach. Because GERD is a chronic disease, treatment usually must be maintained on a long-term basis, even after symptoms have been brought under control. Issues of daily living and compliance with long-term use of medication can be addressed through follow-up, support, and education.

IFFGD maintains a Heartburn Helpline (1-888-964-2001) for additional information on GERD. They also provide a complimentary 7-Day Diary to keep track of specific food items and circumstances related to episodes of heartburn.

IFFGD is a nonprofit education and research organization whose mission is to inform, assist and support those affected by gastrointestinal disorders. With an international group of experts from multiple disciplines who serve on the organization's medical advisory board, the IFFGD is a resource for anyone seeking current information about gastrointestinal disorders for both adults and children. For more information, visit, or call 1-888-964-2001.