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Symptom Tracking: How to Monitor and Document Your GERD Symptoms

If you have heartburn or acid reflux, when that burning sensation spreads across your chest it might seem like you will never forget it. But a few days or weeks later, when your provider is asking you questions to see if you might have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you might discover your memory is a little foggy. 

You may not be prepared to answer questions like:

  • What did you eat before you noticed heartburn?
  • Did you overeat?
  • How soon after eating did you go to bed?
  • Was it a stressful day?

GERD is a condition where stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Over time, it can irritate the esophagus and cause complications like Barrett’s esophagus, where the lining of the esophagus changes. Plus, heartburn and other symptoms can interfere with your sleep and your activities.

So if you have GERD symptoms, it’s important to be able to share details about them with your provider. A good way to do that is with a symptom tracker. 

“Recording your symptoms, how often you have them and how severe they are is helpful in putting together a treatment plan and seeing how well it is working,” said Wahid Wassef, MD, a gastroenterologist with Banner – University Medicine. He explained more about what to track and how to document everything.

GERD symptoms

Step one in tracking your GERD symptoms is knowing what to watch for. Along with heartburn, GERD can cause:

  • Regurgitation, where stomach contents reach the throat or mouth. With it, you may notice a sour or bitter taste.
  • Chest pain. Since the pain of GERD can feel like a heart attack, get medical care right away if you have chest pain.
  • Trouble swallowing or the feeling that something is stuck in your throat, called dysphagia.
  • A cough that’s not linked to respiratory problems and isn’t getting better.
  • A hoarse voice, especially in the morning.
  • Bad breath in the morning.
  • Nausea or vomiting.

How to track your GERD symptoms

You can track your symptoms on paper, electronically or with an app, whatever is more convenient and preferable for you.

Using paper or a note on your computer or phone can be simple and straightforward. Set aside time each day to write down:

  • Your symptoms.
  • When you noticed them.
  • How long they lasted.
  • What they felt like.
  • How severe they were on a scale of one to five.
  • What you ate. 
  • Any medication you took and how effective it was. “It is a good idea to track how often you are using over-the-counter heartburn medications,” Dr. Wassef said. 
  • Your physical activity.
  • Your other activities.
  • Your sleep.
  • Your stress levels.

If you have trouble remembering to track your symptoms every day, put a reminder on your calendar or set an alarm. Or tie it in with something you do routinely, like brushing your teeth.

You can also use apps to track your symptoms. Apps can be helpful because they can remind you to input your symptoms and details. They may also create graphs or charts that help you see trends and relationships between symptoms and triggers.

“Review your tracker regularly and look for patterns or trends,” Dr. Wassef said. And whatever method you choose, be consistent. That way, you’ll have detailed data to share with your health care provider. 

How your symptom tracker can help

With your tracker, you may see patterns between your symptoms and foods, eating habits or lifestyle factors. You may spot more subtle changes in your symptoms so you can modify your treatment plan before you develop any complications.

You’ll be able to tell how factors like these might influence your symptoms:

  • Adjusting your mealtimes
  • Choosing GERD-friendly foods
  • Exercising
  • Reducing stress
  • Getting enough sleep

Your tracker gives you detailed, accurate information you can share with your provider. With it, you can have better communication and more meaningful discussions. Your provider has the data they need for diagnosis and treatment.

Don’t hesitate to ask your provider any questions or share your concerns. Working together, you can develop a treatment plan that controls your GERD symptoms and improves your life and well-being.

The bottom line

If you have heartburn or GERD, tracking your symptoms – how often you have them, how intense they are, what and when you eat and other factors – can help you spot triggers and see how well treatment is working. It’s important to keep a detailed record of your symptoms every day so you can share it with your provider at your appointments.

If you would like to connect with an expert who can help you get your heartburn and GERD symptoms under control, reach out to Banner Health.

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