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What causes GERD?

The reason some people develop GERD is still unclear. In some people with GERD, the lower esophageal sphincter simply relaxes at an inappropriate time. More commonly, anatomical abnormalities such as a hiatal hernia contribute to GERD. A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter move above the diaphragm (a thin layer of muscle that separates the stomach cavity from the chest cavity). When the lower esophageal sphincter is in its normal position the diaphragm helps keep stomach contents and acid from rising up into the esophagus. When a hiatal hernia is present, acid reflux can occur more easily. A hiatal hernia can occur in people of any age and is most often a normal finding in otherwise healthy people over age 50. Like hernias in other parts of the body it can be an acquired defect over time from straining, coughing or gaining weight. Fortunately every hiatal hernia does not cause GERD or significant symptoms.

Other factors that may contribute to GERD include:

  • obesity
  • pregnancy
  • smoking

The food you eat does not cause reflux but foods that commonly worsen reflux symptoms include:

  • citrus fruits
  • chocolate
  • drinks with caffeine or alcohol
  • fatty and fried foods
  • garlic and onions
  • mint flavorings
  • spicy foods
  • tomato-based foods, like spaghetti sauce, salsa, chili, and pizza.
Where can I go to get help for my Heartburn/GERD?
For heartburn testing:
The Heartburn Center at Virginia Hospital Center
1625 N. George Mason Drive, Arlington, VA 22205
Phone: 703.717.GERD (4373)
For heartburn treatment:
Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group – Surgical Specialists
Phone: 703.717.4250
Virginia Hospital Center Physician Group – Hernia & Heartburn Institute
Phone: 703.372.2280
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