Heartburn and GORD

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Heartburn is a symptom associated with various gastrointestinal conditions, most notably gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), the most common condition diagnosed by gastroenterologists worldwide.

GORD can also trigger a range of other symptoms. In fact, in some people heartburn is completely absent. These other symptoms include:

  • Acid regurgitation – the bringing up of undigested material from the stomach into the mouth
  • A non-burning chest pain
  • Persistent laryngitis and hoarseness because the refluxed fluid irritates the respiratory tract
  • Persistent sore throat 
  • Excess burping
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing (also called “dysphagia”) or a feeling of food getting stuck in the throat
  • Chronic cough
  • New onset of asthma or asthma only at night
  • Sense of lump in the throat
  • Worsening dental disease or erosion of tooth enamel
  • Recurrent pneumonia
  • Chronic sinusitis
  • Throat clearing

Note that heartburn isn’t necessarily a sign of GORD. A study of people in whom typical reflux symptoms persisted despite treatment indicated that approximately a third of participants didn’t have GORD. Many participants had functional heartburn, i.e. no abnormality could be found.

Reviewed by Dr Estelle Wilken, senior specialist in Internal Medicine and Gastroenterology at Tygerberg Hospital. March 2017.

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