Heartburn and acid regurgitation are the main symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD),1 though some people have GERD without heartburn. Other symptoms include pain in your chest and/or abdomen, difficulty swallowing, dry cough, hoarseness, nausea, vomiting, bad breath, wheezing, and interrupted sleep.
Whether or not you have heartburn, if you have GERD, you will likely experience some or all of these frequent symptoms,2 including:
Acid reflux: You might feel a burning sensation in your chest and/or abdomen, and you might taste stomach acid combined with whatever food you just ate, especially in the back of your throat. That’s because the valve between your stomach and your esophagus—which carries your food from your mouth to your stomach—isn’t closing properly, and it’s allowing the contents of your stomach to move in the wrong direction, back up toward your mouth.
Chest or abdominal pain: This usually starts behind your breastbone, or sternum, and may travel up to your throat and radiate to your back. You may also feel pain in the upper or middle part of your abdomen. The pain usually occurs shortly after eating and can last from a few minutes to several hours. It’s important to remember that sometimes the pain of a heart attack can be confused with the burning pain of GERD, and it’s always important to seek medical attention if there is any doubt as to the origin of your chest pain.
Hoarseness: Irritation caused by refluxed stomach acid into your throat can lead to hoarseness or laryngitis, particularly in the morning.
Difficulty swallowing: Issues with swallowing, known as dysphagia, occur when food doesn’t pass normally from your mouth through the esophagus to the stomach. There may be a sensation of food sticking in your throat, chest pressure or burning after eating, or a feeling of choking. Difficulty swallowing could be a sign of various conditions, including erosive esophagitis and esophageal cancer, and should always be evaluated by a healthcare provider.
Persistent dry cough: If refluxed stomach acid is aspirated, it can cause coughing. This cough can also cause a sore throat.
Bad breath: This can occur when acid from your stomach comes up into your throat and mouth.
Wheezing: You might feel like you’re having difficulty breathing, and you may hear a whistling sound when you breathe.
Nausea or vomiting: GERD can cause nausea and/or regurgitation as well, which can lead to your teeth wearing away from the stomach acid.
Difficulty sleeping: GERD can interrupt your sleep if the symptoms are bothersome.
Elderly patients may not connect their symptoms with heartburn or GERD, as they may be different from what is considered typical for the disease.
Usually, when we think of the symptoms of GERD we think of heartburn. In the elderly, symptoms often show up in the mouth, throat, or lungs.
Symptoms that can occur in the throat include:
Feeling like there is a lump in your throat or food stuck in your throat
Trouble swallowing (dysphagia)
Chronic sore throat
Respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and wheezing