What Is Acid Reflux
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Sometimes it can feel like heart attack pains. However, you look at it, this condition is very nasty and to say the least uncomfortable.
Acid reflux is a common condition that features a burning pain, known as heartburn, in the lower chest area. It happens when stomach acid flows back up into the food pipe.
Acid Stomach Contents Backing Up
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is diagnosed when acid reflux occurs more than twice a week.
Exact figures vary, but diseases resulting from acid reflux are the most common gut complaints seen by hospital departments in the United States.
The main cause for the hospitalizations is due to the fact, that it feels like your insides are on fire. Sometimes it is hard to determine what the cause is. It is always better to be safe than sorry. Some may take an antacid but if the problem continues it is best to get medical advice.
The burning pain that resides in your chest, which often shoots up to your throat, can be easily avoided.
Acid reflux happens when stomach contents rise into your esophagus causing symptoms like acidic taste in the back of your mouth, heartburn, bad breath, chest pain, vomiting, and decaying teeth. If left untreated, complications like esophagitis can emerge.
The American College of Gastroenterology says that over 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month, and at least 15 million as often as daily.
GERD is most common in Western countries, affecting an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the population.
Chronic heartburn can lead to serious complications.
- Acid reflux is also known as heartburn, acid indigestion, or pyrosis.
- It happens when some of the acidic stomach contents go back up into the esophagus.
- Acid reflux creates a burning pain in the lower chest area, often after eating.
- Lifestyle risk factors include obesity and smoking.
- Drug treatments are the most common therapy and are available on prescription and over-the-counter (OTC).
Acid reflux is when some of the acid content of the stomach flows up into the esophagus, and into the gullet, which moves food down from the mouth. Despite the name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart.
The stomach contains hydrochloric acid, a strong acid that helps break down food and protect against pathogens such as bacteria.
The lining of the stomach is specially adapted to protect it from the powerful acid, but the esophagus is not protected.
A ring of muscle, the gastroesophageal sphincter, normally acts as a valve that lets food into the stomach but not back up into the esophagus. When this valve fails, and stomach contents are regurgitated into the esophagus, the symptoms of acid reflux are felt, such as heartburn.
Risks Of Acid Reflux/Gerd
GERD affects people of all ages, sometimes for unknown reasons. Often, it is due to a lifestyle factor, but it can also be due to causes that cannot always be prevented.
One cause that is not preventable is a hiatal (or hiatus) hernia. A hole in the diaphragm allows the upper part of the stomach to enter the chest cavity, sometimes leading to GERD.
Other risk factors are more easily controlled:
- smoking (active or passive)
- Low levels of physical exercise
- medications, including drugs for asthma, calcium channel blockers, antihistamines, painkillers, sedatives, and antidepressants.
Pregnancy can also cause acid reflux due to extra pressure being placed on the internal organs.
Food and dietary habits that have been linked to acid reflux include:
- a high intake of table salt
- a diet low in dietary fiber
- eating large meals
- lying down within 2 to 3 hours of eating a meal
- consuming chocolate, carbonated drinks, and acidic juices
A recent study suggests that dietary choices may be as effective as using proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) in treating acid reflux.
- PPIs, including omeprazole, rabeprazole, and esomeprazole.
- H2 blockers, including cimetidine and famotidine.
- Over-the-counter treatments, such as antacids, are available to buy online.
- Alginate drugs, including Gaviscon.
The main treatment options for people who repeatedly experience acid reflux in GERD are either PPIs or H2 blockers, both of which are medications.
PPIs and H2 blockers decrease acid production and reduce the potential for damage caused by acid reflux.
These medications are generally safe and effective, but like any prescription drug, they are not appropriate for all people with reflux disease and can cause side effects.
For instance, they can cause problems absorbing nutrients. This can lead to malnutrition.
Over-the-counter remedies for Acid Reflux
Always consult with your doctor first.
For people who experience heartburn or indigestion infrequently, perhaps in association with occasional food and drink triggers, OTC treatments to reduce the acidity of the stomach contents are available.
These liquid and tablet formulations are called antacids, and there are dozens of brands available, all with similar effectiveness. They may not work for everyone, and any need for regular use should be discussed with a doctor.
Antacids provide rapid but short-term relief by reducing the acidity of the stomach contents.
They contain chemical compounds such as calcium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, aluminum, and magnesium hydroxide. They can also inhibit nutrient absorption, leading to deficiencies over time.
Gaviscon is probably the best-known heartburn therapy. It has a different mode of action than antacid drugs. Alginate drugs such as Gaviscon vary slightly in composition, but they usually contain an antacid.
The alginic acid works by creating a mechanical barrier against the stomach acid, forming a foamy gel that sits at the top of the gastric pool itself.
Any reflux is then relatively harmless as it consists of alginic acid and does not damage stomach acid.
The active ingredient—alginate—is found naturally in brown algae.
If you want to buy Gaviscon, then there is an excellent selection available online.
Other possible treatment methods include:
- Sucralfate acid suppressants
- Potassium-competitive acid blockers
- Transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation (TLESR) reducers
- GABA(B) receptor agonist
- mGluR5 antagonist
- Prokinetic agents
- Pain modulators
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- Theophylline, a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor
If GERD is severe and unresponsive to medical treatment, a surgical intervention known as fundoplication may be needed.
Lifestyle measures that may help include:
- improving posture, for instance, sitting up straighter
- wearing loose clothing
- losing weight if overweight or obese
- avoiding increased pressure on your abdomen, such as from tight belts or doing sit-up exercises
- stopping smoking
Acid reflux usually produces heartburn, whether it is due to a single episode of overeating or persistent GERD.
Heartburn is an uncomfortable burning sensation that occurs in the esophagus and is felt behind the breastbone area. It tends to get worse when lying down or bending over. It can last for several hours and often worsens after eating food.
The pain of heartburn may move up toward the neck and throat. Stomach fluid can reach the back of the throat in some cases, producing a bitter or sour taste.
If heartburn occurs two or more times a week, it is known as GERD for short.
Other symptoms of GERD include:
- dry, persistent cough
- asthma and recurrent pneumonia
- throat problems, such as soreness, hoarseness, or laryngitis (voice box inflammation)
- difficulty or pain when swallowing
- chest or upper abdominal pain
- dental erosion
- bad breath
Risks And Complications
Without treatment, GERD can lead to serious complications in the long term, including an increased risk of cancer.
Persistent exposure to stomach acid can damage the esophagus, leading to:
- Esophagitis: The lining of the esophagus is inflamed, causing irritation, bleeding, and ulceration in some cases
- Strictures: Damage caused by stomach acid leads to scar development and difficulties swallowing, with food getting stuck as it travels down the esophagus
- Barrett’s esophagus: a serious complication where repeated exposure to stomach acid causes changes in the cells and tissues lining the esophagus with the potential to develop into cancer cells.
Both esophagitis and Barrett’s esophagus are associated with a higher risk of cancer.
In the U.S., 30 to 50 percent of women experience heartburn during pregnancy, even if they did not have it before.
Lifestyle modifications are recommended during pregnancy, such as not eating too late at night and consuming small meals.
Any woman who is experiencing severe reflux during pregnancy should speak to her doctor about treatment options.
Acid reflux and heartburn are common and relatively easy to diagnose, however, they can be confused with other chest complaints such as:
- heart attack
- chest wall pain
- pulmonary embolus
GERD is often diagnosed simply by finding no improvement in heartburn symptoms in response to lifestyle changes and acid reflux medication.
Gastroenterologists may also arrange the following investigations:
- Endoscopy: camera imaging
- biopsy: taking a tissue sample for laboratory analysis.
- barium X-ray: imaging the esophagus, stomach, and upper duodenum after swallowing a chalky liquid that helps provide contrast on images.
- esophageal manometry: pressure measurement of the esophagus
- impedance monitoring: measuring the rate of fluid movement along the esophagus.
- pH monitoring: acidity testing
Ways to prevent acid reflux without having to take any medication.
Don’t Lie Down After Eating
Gravity really helps to keep your acid reflux at bay. When you eat a meal, wait at least three hours before lying down. But if you must lie down, elevate your bed or resting area using pillows.
Avoid These Foods
High-fat, spicy, and acidic foods are notorious for causing acid reflux. If you’re getting heartburn more often than usual, make sure you eliminate foods like citrus fruit, mint, chocolate, onions, caffeinated beverages, and carbonated drinks.
Add These Foods to Your Diet
Now that you know what not to eat, here are some foods that you should be eating more of. Ginger, bananas, yogurt, green vegetables, oatmeal, and even chewing gum have been found to combat uncomfortable acid.
Don’t Wear Tight Clothes
Clothes that constrict your stomach may be causing or contributing to your acid reflux (and stomach pain.)
Drink Less Alcohol
Alcohol can cause the muscles in your esophagus to spasm, so cut back on the booze for a while to relax your stomach.
Like alcohol, smoking affects the muscles in your esophagus. Studies have found that nicotine can interfere with your saliva’s ability to clear acid out of the esophagus.
Reduce Your Stress
Most people say their acid reflux is triggered when they are stressed out. If this is the case for you, try engaging in activities that lower your stress levels.
Herbal And Home Remedies for Acid Reflux
Drink aloe vera juice
A randomized controlled trial found aloe vera to be a safe and effective adjunct remedy for GERD, which can help curb stomach inflammation caused by the corrosive action of excessive digestive acids.
However, further research is needed to assess the exact role of aloe vera in treating GERD.
How to use: Consume ¼ cup of aloe vera juice before every meal. Avoid overuse as it can counteract as a laxative.
Acid reflux can sometimes be traced back to an imbalance in the gut bacteria, which can be corrected by consuming foods or supplements containing beneficial bacteria known as probiotics.
The extended use of medications for treating GERD can also disturb the gut microflora and cause digestive problems, such as functional dyspepsia.
How to use:
- Include foods such as yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut in your daily diet, or ask your doctor to start you on a supplement.
- You may also ask your doctor to start you on probiotic supplements.
- However, always stick to the recommended intake since the overuse of probiotics can increase digestion and cause diarrhea.
Chewing sugarless gums, cinnamon gums, or gutsy gums after meals can provide relief from acid reflux.
Avoid mint-flavored gums as mint helps relax the LES and can aggravate acid reflux and heartburn.
However, chewing gum is not a substitute for clinical treatment as it only provides temporary symptomatic relief rather than addressing the underlying cause of GERD.
Chewing gum helps in increasing saliva production. Excess saliva can help in neutralizing and washing down the acid and soothing the esophagus.
The alkaline property of baking soda can neutralize the acidic pH of your stomach and can provide temporary relief from acid reflux.
Regular use can be counterproductive due to its high sodium content, which can inhibit the absorption of other medications in the bloodstream.
How to use:
- Add ½ teaspoon of baking soda to half a cup of water (125 ml).
- Stir it well so that it dissolves completely, and then drink this solution as an antacid.
Further studies are required to verify the use of baking soda for acid reflux treatment. Avoid its usage if you are on a low-sodium diet. Pregnant women should avoid consuming baking soda as it can cause fluid buildup, which may be harmful to the baby.
Consumption of diluted apple cider vinegar (ACV) can help lower the acidity in the stomach by enhancing the digestion process, although further studies are needed to support this claim.
How to use:
- ACV should be used in small quantities, that is, 1-2 tablespoons in 1 ounce of water.
- Pickle juice contains a lot of vinegar and works similarly to ACV. Pickle juice is more palatable than vinegar for many people and just as effective.
This may taste nasty, but I mix it with some honey, and it does work. I would recommend Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar. Also, dilute it with some pineapple juice.
Undiluted vinegar is acidic enough to cause tooth decay and must be avoided. Moreover, this remedy is not recommended for people with diabetes, as ACV intake can negatively affect insulin levels.
Several herbal teas may help in reducing acid reflux, according to anecdotal evidence.
Herbs are credited with significant therapeutic properties that may help mitigate the discomfort associated with this condition, often by acting as an acid buffer.
Ginger tea is a popular beverage in this regard as it aids proper digestion and reduces the acidity of several foods.
Other herbs that can potentially curb the excessive secretion of stomach acids and prevent them from backing up in the esophagus include chamomile, licorice, marshmallow, slippery elm, and green tea.
However, these herbal teas are not a scientifically proven cure for acid reflux, but adjunct dietary aids for relieving its symptomatic discomfort. They have delivered good results for many users, which is the basis for their inclusion in this list of acid reflux remedies.
How to use:
- Make your own tea by steeping the preferred herb in hot (not boiling) water for a few minutes and adding a bit of lemon or honey to make it more appetizing.
- Use instant herbal teas that are available as loose extracts and tea bags.
Mustard Helps Also
Mustard seeds are found in alkaline foods, which means they can counteract the stomach acids and increase the pH levels in your stomach.
The more alkaline the stomach, the lower the chance of acid reflux. That said, you must remember that this remedy is purely anecdotal and is recommended based on positive user reviews rather than scientific support.
Thus, the digestive benefits of mustard seeds for reducing acidity still need to be verified by evidence-based research.
How to use:
- Spice up your dishes with mustard seeds or powder, keeping your daily intake to around 2 teaspoons.
- You can also mix 2 teaspoons of whole or powdered mustard seeds in half a glass of water and drink this tonic to curb acid reflux.
Other Alternatives to Consider
Acupuncture can help stimulate the digestive muscles to push the food through the gastrointestinal tract, thus improving the overall digestive function.
If the food remains in the stomach for too long, the digestive bacteria keep breaking it down to produce increased amounts of gases and acids as by-products. This leads to flatulence, bloating, and acid reflux.
Acupuncture is a traditional Chinese technique that is considered largely safe and effective. It involves the insertion of needles into specific points of the body, which requires the skilled expertise of a specialist. So, do not try this at home but go to a professional acupuncturist for the best results.
You can try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing and yoga along with prescribed medication to improve the function of the LES and thereby reduce functional heartburn symptoms.
Change Your Sleeping Position
When you are standing or sitting, gravity pulls down the stomach acid and keeps it from rising above the mid-chest even during reflex. This vertical push is removed when lying down, thus allowing the acid to back up in the throat and mouth, causing irritation and sleep disturbances.
Sleeping with your head raised 6 inches above the heart level can help reduce acid reflux.
You can do so by propping extra pillows under your head, inclining your bed by putting a few blocks under its head-side legs or placing a wedge below the mattress.
Reduce Pressure on The Stomach
Do not wear tight-fitting clothes or lie down immediately after eating. Avoid using multiple pillows under your head as this can also increase the pressure on your stomach.
Foods that provide relief from acid reflux include:
- Bananas have low acid content and are rich in fiber. It can coat the esophageal lining and relieve irritation and discomfort. The fiber in bananas can help in fighting indigestion.
- Melons are rich in magnesium, which is widely incorporated into medications used to treat acid reflux. Like bananas, melons are also alkaline.
- Apricot. Daily apricot intake may improve digestive dysmotility symptoms, resulting in relief of GERD symptoms.
- Oatmeal has high fiber content and enhances digestive health. It helps in combatting reflux and constipation. Also, it makes your stomach feel full. As a result, you avoid overeating, thus preventing regurgitation.
- Green vegetables such as kale, spinach, asparagus, and Brussels sprouts have low fat and sugar content, which prevents the overproduction of acid in the stomach. These vegetables also help in relieving acid reflux as they are highly alkaline.
- Milk and milk products can be consumed to provide relief. Consumption of yogurt helps in balancing the gut flora.
- Protein-rich foods, such as beans, lean meat and substitutes, soft-flaked fish, and eggs, are beneficial to people suffering from acid reflux.
- A gluten-free diet is recommended for the alleviation of symptoms associated with GERD. It also helps in preventing acid reflux which can cause intestinal damage in patients who have celiac disease.
Foods to be avoided when you suffer from GERD:
- Citrus fruits, such as oranges, and tomatoes have high acid content, which can trigger acid reflux.
- Fatty foods, such as cheese, prime rib, pizza, and fries, can cause heartburn. The high fat content can also cause obesity, which increases the pressure on your stomach and the LES.
- Spicy foods can worsen the symptoms associated with GERD. It is recommended to avoid garlic and onion as well.
- Coffee can induce acid secretion and can also hamper the function of the LES.
- Alcohol and chocolates can relax the muscles of the LES and induce acid reflux.
Is GERD Genetic?
Several studies suggest that genes play a significant role in the development of GERD and related complications, such as Barrett’s esophagus.
However, more studies are needed to evaluate the role of the identified genes, which can help in the development of screening tools, biomarkers, and new therapeutic approaches to combat the disease.
What is the difference between GERD and heartburn?
The upward movement of acid from the stomach to the esophagus is termed reflux.
Heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest due to the presence of acid and is a symptom of reflux. GERD is a chronic condition wherein frequent acid reflux occurs.
Thank you for reading.
Comments are welcome.