Overview of GERD/Heartburn

The esophagus carries food from the mouth to the stomach. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a ring of muscle at the bottom of the esophagus that acts like a valve between the esophagus and the stomach. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, occurs when the LES does not close properly, and stomach contents leak back, or reflux into the esophagus. This liquid can inflame the lining of the esophagus.

Signs & Symptoms

When refluxed stomach acid touches the lining of the esophagus (esophageal reflux), it causes discomfort in the chest or throat called "heartburn". Occasional heartburn is common but does not necessarily mean one has GERD. Heartburn that occurs more than twice a week may be considered GERD, and it can eventually lead to more serious health problems. This condition can also cause chronic cough which may be the only manifestation.


Lifestyle Changes:

  • Stop smoking
  • Decrease consumption of peppermint, chocolate, caffeinated beverages, and alcohol
  • Eat/smaller more frequent meals
  • Chew gum which stimulates production of bicarbonate containing saliva which neutralizes acid in the esophagus
  • Avoid lying down for at least three hours after a meal
  • Raise the head of your bed 6-8 inches by putting blocks of wood under the bedposts or use a wedge pillow - just using extra pillows will not help

Avoidance of Certain Foods:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Fried foods
  • Fatty foods
  • Garlic and onions
  • Mint flavorings
  • Spicy foods
  • Tomato-based foods


Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medications such as antacids, which you can buy without a prescription (Tums, Maalox, or Mylanta), or stronger medications (ranitidine, nizatidine, cimetidine) that decrease acid production. Often these will suffice, but if symptoms persist, a consult with your health-care provider is advised to ensure nothing more serious is ongoing (ulcer, stricture, Barrett's esophagus).

How We Can Help

  • If you would like to be seen by our medical staff, please contact our Appointment Desk to schedule an appointment.
  • Also, our Advice Nurse service is available at no charge for all UC Davis students to discuss health concerns and the need for medical care.