Living with acid reflux

group eating outside

Have you ever felt a persistent burning sensation in your chest? Perhaps you noticed it after drinking your morning cup of coffee or at dinner when red wine and a spicy entrée were on the menu. 

You’re not alone. 

You may be experiencing acid reflux, which can develop into heartburn or early signs of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It happens when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, leaving you with an uneasy feeling behind your breast bone. The main difference between the three conditions are the severity and frequency in which it occurs.¹

Acid reflux is a common condition that impacts 1 out of every 5 adults in the U.S., meaning 80 million Americans experience the discomfort caused by acid reflux every month.² The good news is you’ve landed in the right place to better understand acid reflux, heartburn and GERD to relieve your symptoms.

The burning truth about acid reflux

The esophagus is like a muscular tube that links your throat to your stomach. There’s a small gatekeeper at the base known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which usually does a great job keeping stomach acid where it belongs.

But the LES isn’t perfect.

Sometimes the LES relaxes or weakens, letting stomach acid flow into the esophagus. The result? That fiery feeling in your chest that goes by many names–acid reflux, heartburn or GERD.

What’s the difference between acid reflux, heartburn and GERD?

While acid reflux, heartburn and GERD are all terms describing the backflow of stomach acid, there are differences between the three.

  • Acid reflux is a general term that refers to any instance of stomach acid backing up into the esophagus.
  • Heartburn is a specific type of acid reflux felt as a burning sensation in the chest. It often worsens after eating or when lying down or bending over.
  • GERD is a chronic condition brought on by repeated acid reflux. It can cause many other symptoms, including heartburn, difficulty swallowing and a sour taste in the mouth.

Signs and symptoms of acid reflux

Acid reflux happens when the natural balance of your digestive system is disrupted. For example, drinking caffeine or alcohol, lying down after eating, being obese or pregnant, smoking,¹ eating fatty or spicy foods³ and feeling stress⁴ are all causes of acid reflux.

Early warning signs that you are experiencing acid reflux include a persistent burning sensation in your chest, regurgitation and difficulty swallowing.⁵ While occasional acid reflux is common and can be managed with over-the-counter (OTC) antacids, symptoms can sometimes develop in tandem with a pre-existing condition, like asthma.

For example, acid reflux and asthma often occur together.⁶ One condition can worsen the other, so it’s best to understand the severity of your case. Is it a mild case of acid flux or full-blown GERD that you’re experiencing? 

Knowing the stages of GERD will put you in a better position to treat the condition, which can also relieve asthmatic symptoms. 

Stages of GERD—from mild to severe

GERD is broken up into 3 distinct stages before becoming so serious that it leads to a precancerous condition known as Barrett’s esophagus:⁷

  • Mild: Symptoms of minimal acid reflux or regurgitation occur once or twice a month. 
  • Moderate: Symptoms are frequent enough to start taking a prescribed acid reflux medication.
  • Severe: Symptoms are painful enough to impact your quality of life, and surgery may be warranted.

Your primary care physician can diagnose which type of GERD you are experiencing based on your symptoms and a physical exam. They may also order tests, such as an endoscopy, to confirm the diagnosis. Checking in with your doctor is critical to avoid developing further complications over time, like esophagitis or cancer.

Taking control of acid reflux

Dealing with acid reflux symptoms doesn’t have to be a literal pain in the chest. There are plenty of actions you can take to mitigate or even reverse damage caused by chronic acid reflux:⁸

  • Consume water and healthier foods 
  • Chew gum
  • Wear looser clothes
  • Exercise more
  • Take OTC medication
  • Quit smoking

Don’t go through GERD alone

We understand the challenges of living with conditions ranging from mild acid reflux to severe GERD. Our CenterWell Pharmacy® pharmacists are equipped to address your concerns. Additionally, you can shop our OTC store to ease your symptoms. 

Lastly, our live agent chat is available Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Eastern time, to answer your questions because patient well-being is at the center of everything we do.

Disclaimer: This information is provided for educational purposes only. It is not to be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Consult your healthcare provider if you have questions or concerns.


  1. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD),” Mayo Clinic, last accessed July 27, 2023.
  2. How common is GERD,” The Surgical Clinic, last accessed July 27, 2023. 
  3. Robin Madell, “What Foods Should You Avoid with Acid Reflux (Heartburn)?” Healthline, last accessed July 27, 2023.
  4. Colleen M. Story, “Can Stress Cause Acid Reflux?” Healthline, last accessed July 31, 2023.
  5. Brittany Edelmann, “What Are the Symptoms of GERD and How To Treat It,” Discover, last accessed July 27, 2023. 
  6. James T C Li, “Asthma and acid reflux: Are they linked?” Mayo Clinic, last accessed July 27, 2023.
  7. Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD),” The University of Kansas Health System, last accessed July 27, 2023.
  8. How to Relieve Acid Reflux with a Raised Bed,” The Oesophageal and Gastric Cancer Support Charity, last accessed July 31, 2023.

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