The most common symptoms of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) include:
Heartburn is the main symptom of GORD. It’s a burning pain or feeling of discomfort that develops just below your breastbone and can rise up. Heartburn is often worse after eating heavy meals, lying down or when bending over.
Is it heartburn or a heart attack?
Chest pain is a very common reason for people to go to the hospital emergency department. While many of these people are suffering from a heart attack, some are experiencing severe heartburn. A heart attack can feel like bad indigestion.
It’s so difficult to tell these two apart that sophisticated medical testing is needed to determine if they are in fact having a heart attack.
If you have any chest pain that lasts for more than a few minutes or any heart attack warning signs such as shortness of breath or pain in your jaw or arm, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention by calling triple zero (000).
If you have any doubt about whether your symptoms are heartburn or a heart attack, then also seek immediate medical attention by calling triple zero (000). Remember — it’s always OK to call triple zero (000), even if it’s a false alarm.
Regurgitation refers to the reflux of stomach acid and other stomach contents up into your throat and mouth, and causes an unpleasant, sour taste in your mouth.
About one third of people with GORD have difficulty swallowing, or dysphagia, especially solids such as meat, bread and pastry. It can also feel like they have a lump in their throat.
Other symptoms of GORD
GORD can also cause other problems such as:
- feeling or being sick
- a persistent cough, which may be worse at night
- chest pain
- tooth decay and gum disease
- laryngitis (inflammation of the larynx) which causes throat pain and hoarseness
- bad breath
- bloating and belching
Some people may also find swallowing painful. This is caused by ulcers in the oesophagus and can happen with hot or cold solids or liquids.
When to seek medical advice or help
If you experience symptoms such as heartburn once or twice a month, then you probably don’t need to see your doctor. You should be able to manage the symptoms yourself with lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medicines.
You should see your doctor if you:
- have chest pain
- have frequent and severe symptoms and are using over-the-counter medications on a daily or weekly basis
- have symptoms not fully relieved by over the counter medications or a change in your lifestyle
- find it difficult or painful to swallow
- are losing weight
- have repeated vomiting or are vomiting blood
- are taking medicines that may be causing heartburn such as aspirin or arthritis tablets
- find exercise exacerbates your symptoms (because it could be heart disease)
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Last reviewed: September 2018