GERD Symptoms in elderly

GERD Symptoms in elderly

GERD Symptoms in elderly 

However, you can experience GERD in any phase of your life. The symptoms of GERD in any individual are merely the same with a slight difference. So, here we are going to discuss GERD Symptoms in elderly

Although when older people with GERD, often experience heartburn as a symptom. The only difference lies is that unlike younger people, heartburn may not be the key presenting symptom. Instead of that extraesophageal symptoms such as chest pains, can be easily confused with cardiac symptoms which are the common signs of GERD in elderly people.

Any person of any age who has chest pain must go to a physician immediately for evaluation.

Some common GERD symptoms in the elderly include: –

  • No cardiac chest pains
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Heartburn
  • Asthma
  • Dental problems
  • Hoarseness
  • Recurrent pneumonia

Non Cardiac chest pains (NCCP) – Commonly seen GERD symptoms in the elderly

This pain is very similar to heart pain (angina). Most of the people think that they are dying of heart pain. A person can feel NCCP mainly behind the breast bone (sternum) and people usually experience it as pressure-like. It may even arise to the neck, left arm or the back (the spine). The pain gets worse when a patient consumes food. Patient’s complaint of associated reflux symptoms which includes heartburn (a burning feeling sensation behind the breast bone) or fluid regurgitation (a sensation of stomach acid coming back toward the chest and even to the mouth with a sour or bitter taste).

As the pain is very similar to heart pain, patients and physicians frequently think that this pain is due to heart. Even some patients go for some common cardiac examination which includes EKGs, laboratory tests, stress test, along with coronary angiography. When these cardiac tests fail to show any evidence related to heart disease. The patients undergo the diagnosis of NCCP. It leads to the physician to examine the other causes responsible for this chest pain.

The complication further arises in the elderly because the patient may have both the medical conditions which includes heart disease and GERD. Each condition may worsen the other one.

Some of the GERD symptoms in the Elderly : –

Swallowing Difficulty – 

Those who experience difficulty with swallowing and are not elderly can easily adjust their diet and lifestyle and can easily manage their swallowing difficulty (Dysphagia) for a longer duration of time without adverse consequences. However, the elderly do not have the same reason to manage difficulty with swallowing for a variety of reasons. Let us go through an example, an elderly person may have bad dentures and consequently be unable to chew normally. He may have a fear of choking up his food. Also, the problems can be magnified by emotional disorders such as depression.

When you are unable to swallow as it chokes you or the food gets stuck in your throat, your risk of not getting nutrients to rise exponentially. No matter what your age is, it is very important to take in the right amount of nutrients. Elderly people who don’t consume enough calories are at an increased risk of malnutrition or even death. However, even if the person does not die his weakened system will leave him susceptible to a variety of infections and illnesses that he could fight off in his normal condition.

Dysphagia can result from a variety of causes, which includes a narrowed esophagus due to chronic GERD. If the acid reflux is treated, the dysphagia due to the narrowed esophagus may not go away completely. It often depends on how many years this symptom has been in the patient. But the treatment resolves the problem for most of the patients.


Heartburn may be a long-standing problem. The cumulative impact of reflux for twenty or thirty years or even longer often causes an erosion of the esophagus (esophagitis) and pain. Conversely, sometimes the pain is reduced in many elderly people who have Barrett’s esophagus. In the case of Barrett’s esophagus, the individual is less sensitized to acid reflux and patients may not heel any of the symptoms of heartburn despite a high degree of acid reflux.


Individuals of all ages, who have asthma, including the elderly, are at greater risk for GERD. The condition may occur because GERD is causing asthma or because the medicine for asthma may be causing or contributing to the GERD.


Chronic respiratory symptoms and recurring illnesses such as chronic sinus infections, bronchitis, or repeated bouts with pneumonia can all be additional possible indicators of the presence of GERD in an older person and should be evaluated by a physician.

Dental issues

Dental problems that are present as a symptom of possible GERD are missed by most of the physicians. We assume that teeth are supposed to be a major problem for old people. So in case whenever an older person does have a dental problem it is supposed to be very normal. If elderly people have trouble eating because of dentures, then they along with others think that it is the fault of the false teeth that never seem to fit just right. (Note: The problem of ill-fitting dentures does occur and when it does it should be rectified it at earliest). But unfortunately, the problem lies instead and at least in GERD.

Just like young people, refluxed acid can easily damage the tooth enamel when it comes all the way up into the throat and mouth. You can easily see this problem in older people who are ill and frequently lie down flat in their beds.


Although hoarseness is an atypical symptom of acid reflux for many people, it is quite common among the elderly. Often the problem has been going on for some time and has irritated the esophagus and given the voice a scratchy and hoarse quality. If a person over age sixty-five is constantly hoarse. But the physician has not diagnosed any cold or virus or other medical problem, one potential culprit is GERD.

Recurrent Pneumonia

Asthma is not the only lung problem which has an association with GERD. Repeated aspiration of gastric acid backs up into the lungs-from that stomach to the esophagus and then to the throat, windpipe, and lungs can lead to recurrent bronchitis as well as pneumonia. This frequently occurs with bedridden or neurologically impaired patients. Long-standing repetitive aspiration like this has a link to scarring of the lungs.


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