Ask Dr. Mark Babyatsky
The Difference Between Acid Reflux and GERD
Q: Is there a difference between acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)? I have been reading about GERD, and the term "acid reflux" comes up a lot. Are they the same thing?
— Janis, New York
A: Acid reflux simply means that acid made by your stomach's cells backs up through the lower esophageal junction (where your esophagus and stomach meet). At low levels, acid reflux is a normal part of digestion and movement along the gastrointestinal tract. In normal patients, acid reflux can cause symptoms such as heartburn, but it is not considered to be a disease. Avoiding foods that trigger acid reflux, such as fatty foods, coffee, chocolate, etc, will help relieve any symptoms it causes.
GERD, on the other hand, is characterized by an abnormal frequency or amount of reflux. It can result in heartburn, hoarseness, chest pain, and, rarely, asthma, and may be associated with Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer.
The bottom line: Acid reflux is the backing up of stomach acid, while GERD is a disease state of which acid reflux is part.
Return to Understanding Heartburn.
Last Updated: 06/23/2008
Digestive health expert Mark Babyatsky answers your frequently asked questions on digestive health symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, medications, management, and resources. Dr. Babyatsky is a gastroenterologist, professor of medicine, and chairman of the Samuel L. Bronfman Department of Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York.