What Are the 4 Types of Acid Reflux?

Medically Reviewed on 1/25/2022

What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a common stomach issue. The four types of acid reflux are mild, moderate, severe and the type that can lead to esophageal cancer.
Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a common stomach issue. The four types of acid reflux are mild, moderate, severe and the type that can lead to esophageal cancer.Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a common stomach issue. There are four different acid reflux types that are differentiated by how severe your acid reflux is.

Acid reflux is a chronic condition, meaning it comes and goes with time and is difficult to cure completely. When stomach acid makes its way into your esophagus, the tube that links your mouth and stomach, this is acid reflux.

Depending on how intense your reflux is, you could experience this multiple times a week, have long episodes of reflux, and start to feel like your esophagus is constantly irritated. As periods of reflux get longer and more frequent, the esophagus becomes more and more damaged.

Even though GERD is a common issue, many don't recognize that they have it. In these situations, it goes untreated and can result in serious complications.

Mild acid reflux

This is the first stage of gastroesophageal reflux disease. If you have GERD, it's likely that you have this kind. With mild acid reflux, the lower part of your esophagus will be mildly inflamed.


If you have stage 1 acid reflux, you might experience:

  • Heartburn
  • Pain in your chest
  • Feel a lump in the back of your throat
  • Regurgitate food and liquid


At this stage, treatment mostly revolves around making lifestyle choices that fight reflux. You can avoid the symptoms above if you don’t consume irritating food and drinks, like coffee, alcohol, spicy foods, and fatty foods. In addition to keeping a healthy diet, you can buy over-the-counter antacids and stop eating at least three hours before you go to bed. If you try these things and you still have symptoms of GERD at night, you can try raising your head with extra pillows while you sleep.

Moderate acid reflux

About a third of people with acid reflux fall into stage 2. The main difference between mild and moderate acid reflux is that your symptoms will happen multiple times a week, resulting in more irritation and inflammation in your esophagus.

Moderate GERD, if you don’t treat it, can affect your day-to-day activities. You’ll likely need to take acid-suppressive medicines daily.


The symptoms of moderate GERD are similar to stage 1 GERD:

  • Heartburn
  • Pain in your chest
  • Feeling a lump in the back of your throat
  • Regurgitating food and liquid


Although the symptoms are similar to less serious cases of acid reflux, they’re not so easily controlled. Over-the-counter solutions won’t be as effective. Ask your healthcare provider about antisecretory therapy via proton pump inhibitors or histamine 2 receptor blockers. You’ll need a prescription for both of these treatments. At this point in your reflux journey, you may want to start seeing a specialist who can help you mitigate these more intense symptoms.

Severe acid reflux

If you have stage three acid reflux, you’re probably already taking prescription medication and dealing with extreme symptoms every day. It’s likely that you’ll have erosive esophageal inflammation.

About 15% of people with acid reflux fall into this third stage.


If you have severe acid reflux, you might experience:


You need medication to control your reflux at this stage. You’re at high risk for developing serious complications. If you haven’t already found a reflux specialist, now is the time to do so. At their recommendation, you might undergo thorough testing in order to make sure your treatment is correct.

Esophageal cancer

After many years of untreated stage three acid reflux, you could develop precancerous lesions or esophageal cancer. Around 10% of people who have GERD for a long period of time make it to this type of acid reflux. Also known as Barrett’s esophagus, this condition can turn into cancer if it remains untreated.


If you have stage four reflux, you might have:

  • Heartburn
  • Regurgitate food and liquid
  • Sore throat
  • Hoarseness
  • Coughing that doesn’t get better
  • Food getting stuck in your esophagus while you eat


During stage four of GERD, a reflux specialist will perform tests and conduct surveillance to determine if you have a precancerous condition or cancer. You might have to undergo surgery or cancer treatments.

Finding the right treatment

In order to properly treat your acid reflux type, you need to know how severe your case is. Work with your healthcare provider to establish a plan for treatment that properly aligns with the stage of GERD you have. Remember that you might never be completely free of symptoms, but you can take measures to manage them.


Digestive Disorders: Common Misconceptions See Slideshow

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 1/25/2022

Advanced Internal Medicine: "Let's Talk About GERD (Acid Reflux)."

Cooper University Health Care: "The Stages of GERD."

Houston Heartburn & Reflux Center: "The Four Stages of GERD and Treatment Options."