The most common symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is heartburn, which occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach reflux (flow backward) into the esophagus. But some people with GERD do not have heartburn; this most often occurs in older adults. Instead, they experience asthma, a chronic cough, chest pain, or laryngitis.
These symptoms result when stomach acid refluxes into organs connected to the esophagus, such as the larynx, trachea, and lungs. The chance of developing these nonheartburn symptoms of GERD increases with age.
If the symptoms go away within three months of treatment with a proton pump inhibitor—such as esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec), pantoprazole (Protonix), or rabeprazole (AcipHex)—to suppress acid production in the stomach, GERD was most likely the problem.
So if you are wondering whether those bouts of asthma, that nagging cough, those episodes of chest pain, or that hoarse voice could be due to GERD, check out the table below and talk with your physician if you have any concerns.
Many of the same treatments for heartburn—lifestyle measures, medications, and surgery—may relieve the nonheartburn symptoms of GERD as well.
This article first appeared in the 2019 UC Berkeley Digestive Disorders White Paper.
Also see PPIs for GERD: With Benefits Come Risks.