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Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a digestive disorder that leads to unpleasant symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux. GERD occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) malfunctions. The LES is a circular muscle between the esophagus and stomach. If that muscle is loose or loses its tone, you may develop GERD and other accompanying gastrointestinal disorders.
Many people develop GERD because of diet and lifestyle choices. Others may develop this stomach problem if they experience a hiatal hernia. Regardless of your stomach disorder, it is essential to seek a doctor's help if you are experiencing symptoms. Common symptoms of GERD may include:
- Pressure or pain in the chest (heartburn)
- Heartburn when you lie down or bend over
- Bad breath
- Trouble breathing
- A hard time swallowing
- A lump in your throat
- A lingering cough
- Sleep problems
- Wearing away of tooth enamel 
Once the symptoms become severe, you may need to seek a doctor's help for a proper diagnosis. Your doctor may prescribe Nexium (esomeprazole), Protonix (pantoprazole), Prevacid (lansoprazole), or metoclopramide. These medications can help reduce stomach acid production and improve symptoms. Read on to learn more about the long-term effects of GERD. 
A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach bulges into the chest through an opening (the hiatus) in the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle between the chest and stomach. Hiatal hernias can occur because of GERD or increase the risk of GERD. The two types of hiatal hernia include sliding and paraesophageal hernias. In a normally functioning stomach, the esophagus goes through the hiatus and attaches to the stomach. With a sliding hiatal hernia, the esophagus's stomach and bottom slide up into the chest through the diaphragm.
A paraesophageal hernia is much more serious. In this type, the stomach moves and squeezes through the hiatus and sits next to the esophagus. Because the stomach is getting squeezed through this opening, it can lose blood supply and lead to many complications. Hiatal hernia symptoms include:
- Heartburn from GERD
- Chest pain
- Bad taste in the mouth
- Upset stomach and vomiting
- Shortness of breath
GERD is just one of the many causes behind the development of a hiatal hernia. You may also get these conditions if you have an injury to that part of the stomach, age-related changes to the diaphragm, or a rise in the stomach's pressure due to pregnancy, obesity, or coughing. 
If you experience GERD over a long period, you may begin to suffer from esophagitis. This condition is characterized by the inflammation or irritation of the esophagus. Continued backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus leads to unpleasant side effects, including:
- Pain when you swallow
- Chest pain
- Decrease in appetite
- Hoarse voice
- Abdominal pain
- Acid reflux
- Shortness of breath or chest pain
Along with those painful symptoms, you are also at a higher risk of developing ulcers in the esophagus. These peptic ulcers occur when the layer of mucus that lines and protects the gastrointestinal tract wears away. When that layer is gone, the GI (gastrointestinal) tract becomes vulnerable to harmful gastric juices, and ulcers develop. A narrowed esophagus or stricture may also occur, which can trap pieces of food and cause further complications. 
Barrett's esophagus is a severe gastrointestinal problem that may result from GERD. Around one in six Americans have acid reflux symptoms, and ten percent of those also have Barrett's esophagus. When the lower esophageal sphincter becomes weak, the leaking acid can cause permanent damage to the esophagus. This leads to a thickening and reddening of the esophagus. 
Barrett’s may result from a change in the cell structure of stomach cells. These altered cells increase the risk of esophageal cancer. The risk of developing cancer is small, but you should have regular checkups with your doctor if you have been diagnosed with Barrett’s. You may need extensive biopsies to check for precancerous cells in the esophagus lining.
Other gastrointestinal symptoms are also present with Barrett's esophagus, including heartburn and chest pain. It is important to seek immediate attention if you experience:
- Black, tarry, or bloody stools
- Unintentional weight loss
- Difficulty swallowing
- Bloody vomit 
Bleeding in the stomach and digestive tract may occur if you experience GERD or similar GI problems. Bleeding may happen for several reasons, but upper GI bleeding is more common in GERD and other esophageal conditions. This bleeding may also be caused by:
Peptic ulcers: As mentioned above, peptic ulcers develop in the stomach's lining due to acid erosion. These sores may begin to bleed over time and can result in excessive blood loss. Your doctor may need to perform an endoscopy to view your stomach lining and check for sores.
Tears in the esophagus: Tears that occur in the esophagus are called Mallory-Weiss tears. They may cause bleeding in the tube that connects the throat to the stomach.
Enlarged veins in the esophagus: These veins, also called esophageal varices, may be due to obstructed blood flow through the vein that carries blood from the intestine, pancreas, and spleen to the liver. This is most common in those with severe liver disease.
GI bleeding can be obvious or hidden. Internal bleeding can prove deadly if you do not realize you are experiencing hidden bleeding. Overt bleeding involves vomiting blood, tarry stools, and rectal bleeding. Hidden bleeding may involve lightheadedness, fainting, chest pain, abdominal pain, and difficulty breathing. It is essential to seek medical help if you experience any of these symptoms. 
The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.