So can you get GERD one day for no apparent reason?
Or does it begin subtlety, gradually building up over time until you realize that your chest and stomach has been burning lately?
“GERD is the hypersecretion of acid, and it can be caused by a variety of factors, some age related and some due to neuronal activation,” says John P. Geibel, MD, Professor of Gastrointestinal Surgery at the Yale University School of Medicine.
“As we age, the ability to have the juncture of the stomach and esophagus to be tightly closed disappears,” continues Dr. Geibel.
“This results in the acid that is in the stomach moving closer to the esophagus when we lie down, and this causes the patient to wake up in the middle of the night for no apparent reason [or from feeling stomach or chest pain] and also to have a burning feeling throughout the day.
“The mechanism for it to appear is either hormonal release of the hormones that cause acid secretion, [or] neuronal related to activation of the nerves that can also stimulate acid secretion.
“This is related typically to stress, and finally it can be related to changes in the muscle layer that keeps the juncture of the esophagus and stomach closed.”
GERD is not the same as periodic heartburn. A person who has “acid reflux” does not necessarily have GERD.
GERD refers to a chronic and frequent version of acid reflux: gastroesophageal reflux disease.
So based on this definition, GERD cannot suddenly appear out of nowhere.
However, heartburn (caused by episodic, rather than chronic and frequent acid reflux) CAN indeed develop out of nowhere, seemingly very suddenly.
When this happens, stress is almost always the cause. This isn’t surprising, because stress can be very sudden in onset.
Example of Stress Causing Heartburn to Appear Out of Nowhere
“Heartburn” refers to a burning sensation in the chest, but the burning may be felt only in the middle abdomen in some sufferers.
So one day I found out that the urine-like, putrid odor that was emanating from my townhome’s vents was originating from my neighbor’s filthy, garbage-laden unit – he was a hoarder.
That day was filled with speaking to the police, who said they couldn’t do anything, and numerous phone calls to various county departments to file a complaint, only to be told nothing could be done.
The stench was making its way outside, and the police actually thought it was from a corpse. I was smelling it in my kitchen, office and bedroom.
The other tenant in this unit was physically disabled, so the landlord was afraid to do anything out of fear of being sued for discrimination against the disabled.
All of this came down on me within 24 hours, and I began experiencing a rather marked burning sensation in my stomach that was present nearly every day.
For the next few weeks I battled it out with the landlord and police department, spoke to other neighbors who were also complaining and was livid that the HOA president wasn’t doing much.
Finally I was able to meet with the police chief in person. Two days later he sent me an e-mail explaining that the landlord had 72 hours to evict these tenants.
Almost immediately after I read the e-mail, the stomach burning disappeared and never came back.
This is an example of heartburn or acid reflux that came out of nowhere.
If this happens to you, you can get relief with a zinc-based formula called TummyZen, which was not available at the time of my experience.
Dr. Geibel recommends TummyZen for the relief of occasional heartburn (not GERD) because it acts quickly, lasts for hours and does not cause the side effects that the proton pump inhibitor class of drugs does. TummyZen is available at Target and online.
Dr. Geibel is the author of over 250 publications and presents his research findings both nationally and internationally, and has made the America’s Top Doctors list numerous times.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.