The regurgitation of the stomach contents into the food pipe is known as acid reflux. It causes pain and discomfort in the chest. If left untreated, it can cause problems such as ulcers, strictures and even cancer. Read on to know more about it.
The esophagus is the food pipe connecting the mouth to the stomach. It pushes the food down to the stomach by a rhythmic, involuntary wave-like movement of muscles, a process known as peristalsis.
Once the food is in the stomach, it releases acids such as hydrochloric acid to help digest the food and kill the bacteria. The stomach has special cells lining it to protect it from the strong acids.
At the lower end of the esophagus, at the point where it joins the stomach, there is a valve known as lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that prevents the food from re-entering the esophagus back from the stomach. The special cells that protect the internal lining from acid attack are absent in the esophagus. Hence, if the food does reflux back, it leads to heartburn. The acids then erode the cells of the esophagus, causing inflammation and pain. This is experienced by the person as a burning sensation in the chest.
Certain medical conditions and lifestyle choices make us more prone to experiencing acid reflux. They are:
A condition when the stomach bulges through the diaphragm into the chest.
while one-off instances can cause heaviness, bloating and gas, a long-term habit of overeating causes metabolic disorders such as obesity, heart diseases, and diabetes apart from acid reflux.
This can cause the meal to come back up in the throat and cause bouts of coughing and pain.
Being obese can slow down your system and cause many digestion-related issues.
Acidic foods such as citrus fruits, spices, etc., increases the chances of acid reflux in those already prone to hyperacidity. Alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated drinks cause an acidic environment.
Nicotine in the cigarette is known to relax the LES and cause the acidic stomach contents to trickle back into the esophagus and cause heartburn.
In pregnancy, the hormone progesterone plays an important role in gradually relaxing the smooth muscles to help ease the baby out smoothly at the time of birth. This hormone also causes the valve muscles to relax, thereby allowing the food to reach back the food pipe. Also, the growing fetus competes for space with the stomach forcing the acid contents back up.
Certain drugs such as NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are notorious for causing heartburn.
It is a painful, burning sensation in the chest. It is often confused by many patients to be chest pain due to a heart attack.
Acid reflux can cause a foul and rancid taste in the mouth which gives a very unpleasant sensation.
It is a sensation of the belly feeling swollen and full, especially after eating.
It is the forceful expulsion of gas from the upper stomach through the mouth.
Nausea is an uneasiness or unsettled feeling that gives a sensation you are about to vomit.
Acid reflux can pass beyond the upper esophageal sphincter and go into the throat causing dryness, hoarseness of voice and cough.
When the stomach acid contents regurgitate back into the mouth, they can erode the enamel and dentin layers of the teeth causing cavities and decay.
Over a period of time, reflux can cause a break in the protective lining of the stomach causing intense pain.
If an ulcer perforates the entire layers of the stomach, there can be internal bleeding and infection.
It is a scar formation and narrowing of the food pipe as a result of acid effect.
It is a serious complication of repeated exposure to stomach acid contents. In this condition, the cells lining the food pipe change to abnormal cells resembling those of the intestine.
It is a malignant change of the cells of the food pipe and occurs in a small percentage of those with recurrent exposure to acid.
Since heartburn causes pain in the chest, it is often confused to be a heart attack. It is diagnosed by carrying out tests such as:
An X-ray of your esophagus and stomach may be taken to visualize the internal organs structurally.
A tissue sample may be taken for examination by passing a thin tube through the nose into your esophagus.
It is a special type of X-ray procedure where you will be asked to swallow a solution of barium before taking the radiograph in order to better visualize the internal organs and problems, if any.
In this method, a thin tube with a pH-sensitive end is passed into the esophagus to detect the pH level of your insides. It is left in place for 24 hours and the results are interpreted by the doctor after this period. A newer, wireless method is also available, which is felt to be more convinient by the patient.
Treatment includes a combination of lifestyle modifications and medications. Sometimes, if medication does not provide relief, surgery may be indicated.
Antacids are usually available over-the-counter in the form of chewable tablets as well as liquids. They are helpful in relieving mild symptoms. They neutralize the excess acids in the stomach. They are mostly composed of a combination of aluminum, magnesium, and calcium. Apart from this, prescription drugs are available as two types: H2 blockers and proton-pump inhibitors.
It is a class of drugs that help decrease the production of the stomach acids. H2 blockers include Cimetidine, Ranitidine and Famotidine. They start acting slowly compared to antacids but provide a more lasting relief from acidity.
PPI are medications that block the acid production. They are the most effective medication and are recommended for patients with a more severe and frequent form of acid reflux. Some commonly prescribed PPIs include Omeprazole, Pantoprazole, and Rabeprazole.
If medication does not help or if symptoms have lasted very long, the doctor may recommend surgical procedures such as:
In this procedure, the surgeon tightens the LES (lower esophageal sphincter) to help prevent reflux. It is usually done as a laparoscopic procedure. The uppermost portion of the stomach is known as the fundus. It is cut and sewn in such a way as to tighten the valve (lower esophageal sphincter). If a person suffers from reflux due to hiatal hernia, the same procedure will be used to provide relief too.
A small ring made up of titanium beads with magnetic cores is surgically implanted at the junction of the stomach and food pipe (LES) to help tighten the valve and keep it closed so that the contents of the stomach do not regurgitate back into the esophagus even under pressure from gastric contents.
Hence, acid reflux, although common, is a troublesome condition that causes discomfort and pain in the short-term and more serious complications in the long-term. Often lifestyle modifications are the first-suggested modes of treatment. If lifestyle changes, along with over-the-counter medications do not help, and if symptoms last two weeks or longer, only then a stronger prescription medication is suggested by the doctor.
Irrespective of the severity of your condition, it is important to change your pattern of eating. Many have reported that shifting to a healthier diet and adding in some physical exercise brings about positive changes by themselves.
- Eat small qualities. Do not overeat.
- Avoid spicy foods.
- It is advised to quit smoking.
- You have to lose weight if your doctor asks you to do so.
- Do not walk fast after eating.
- Do not drink aerated beverages.
- Do not lie down immediately after eating.
- Eating in abnormal timings.
- Depending too much on snacks.
- Drinking soda items in increased quantities.
- Heavy foods are not suitable for acid reflux.
- Obesity can also trigger acid reflux.
- Oily and spicy foods are also triggering factors.
The foods that are known to aggravate the condition of acid reflux are tomato, chocolate, mint, onions, garlic, citrus, etc. Peppermint is known to aggravate acid reflux. Tomatoes are also known to trigger acid reflux. Alcohol and wine are known to enhance the acid reflux.
The drinks that are given for acid reflux are:
- Milk is low in fat.
- Fruit juice.
- Herbal tea.
- Milkshake and smoothies.
- Coconut water provides a soothing effect for the acid reflexes.
Water is known to improve the process of digestion in humans. It also helps an individual to stay hydrated. So, water is excellent and safe for acid reflux conditions. If acid reflux is left untreated, it will lead to further complications. It is necessary to consult a doctor immediately and get your condition treated.
The duration of the symptoms of acid reflux usually depends on the trigger. The symptoms of heartburn that have occurred after eating spicy foods would last for two or more hours. It will continue until the food has become wholly digested. Bending down or performing strenuous exercise after eating would trigger this reflux again.
If the symptoms of heartburn are severe and repeatedly disturbing you, then you are in a situation to take adequate measures as soon as possible. You need to consult a doctor immediately if this heartburn persists for a long duration. You should also seek help from your doctor if there is difficulty or pain in swallowing.
Yes, stress can cause acid reflux. Stress generally has a direct influence on the gastrointestinal system. Prostaglandins generally protect the stomach. Stress can reduce the production of prostaglandins. This will, in turn, increase acid reflux.
There are several home remedies for acid reflux. Do not consume coffee and tea. Depend on a diet that is low in carbohydrates. Restrict the intake of onions and beverages. Citrus juices are not suitable for acid reflux. Follow an ideal diet plan that is suitable for the condition regularly. Consistent practice of proper diet plan will help you heal from acid reflux naturally.
Milk is good for acid reflux in some patients. It is not suitable for all of them. Milk contains fat components. This could be triggering factors for some patients. So, you must get a recommendation from your dietician before choosing to go for milk. If drinking milk is not known to aggravate the acid reflux condition, you can continue drinking it.
Choose a diet that is low in acid content. For example, honey is mild and low in acid components. Watermelons are very good for your acid reflux condition. Oatmeal could be the best option for your acid reflux. You have to identify which food is suitable for you with the help of a doctor or a dietician.
If you make a few changes to your sleeping patterns, then you can ease your acid reflux condition. Try to sleep on the left side. Make sure you sleep with your head elevated. Avoid heavy meals before going to bed. Chew the food as much as possible. Swallowing bigger particles of the food is not advisable. Prefer to eat smaller meals more frequently rather than one huge meal.
Antacids are the drugs that are given for the acid reflux condition. It is known to neutralize the acid in the stomach. The other drugs that are beneficial are Cimetidine and Famotidine. Medications like Lansoprazole and Omeprazole are known to reduce acid secretion. It is a safe drug for acid reflux.
A very few patients are known to be suffering from long term acid reflux even after medications. In such cases, you should consider getting tested again. It might be due to other health conditions also. The doctor will consider changing the medications as the current medicines do not help reduce acid secretion.
Vitamin B12 plays a vital role in helping the process of digestion. It also helps to maintain a healthy appetite. The health of the cells will be promoted by the intake of foods that are rich in vitamin B12. The adequate supplementation of vitamin B12 will help in relieving acid reflux.
If you are obese or overweight, make sure to take steps to reduce your weight. Decide to take frequent small meals. Do not eat junk foods and fatty foods. A sedentary lifestyle could be a deviating factor. A minor change in the pattern of living can help you to overcome the acid reflux.
The best breakfast for acid reflux is oatmeal. It is rich in fiber resources and has lots of grains. This can help you get over the symptoms of heartburn, and it will also ease the difficulty in swallowing. A boiled egg is also an excellent option. Add more vegetables like lettuce and spinach in your breakfast.
There are a few ways to get rid of acid reflux faster. They are:
- Do not wear tight clothing.
- Sip a small quantity of apple cider vinegar.
- To dilute the acid, you can chew gum.
- Licorice supplements can help in acid reflux.
- Take foods that contain ginger. It will aid in digestion.
You can choose to eat all the fruits other than citrus fruits. Banana is a good option for acid reflux. Watermelons are the golden key to this condition. These fruits aid in the development of a layer in the stomach. This layer will protect the stomach from further irritation and destruction.
A frequent state of diarrhea and vomiting could be a sign of acid reflux in children. The child will refuse to eat the food and will be having a gag reflex. This is an indication of constant vomiting sensation for the child. They have difficulty in swallowing and eating.
Reports show that there is an increased rate of acid reflux problem in liver disorder and liver failure patients. This shows the close association between acid and bile reflux. In order to overcome the regurgitation problems, quitting the alcohol habit is the only solution.
The condition of acid reflux is known to have a direct influence on the digestive system. It is known to disrupt the normal function of the juices in the stomach. There will be a regurgitation and heartburn. If this problem persists, then you have to contact the doctor immediately.
Sore throat is one of the common symptoms of acid reflux. The throat will have continuous irritation. Drinking hot herbal tea or ginger tea will help you relieve the symptoms. Do not choose hot coffee as it might aggravate the condition of acid reflux. It is necessary to get help from your doctor and ask for medications that would suit your health condition.
Last reviewed at:
13 Nov 2018 - 6 min read
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