The regurgitation of the stomach contents into the food pipe is known as acid reflux. Read to learn 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 strong acids.
At the lower end of the esophagus, when it joins the stomach, there is a valve known as the 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 esophagus cells, causing inflammation and pain. The person experiences this as a burning sensation in the chest.
Certain medical conditions and lifestyle choices make us more prone to experiencing acid reflux. They are:
Hiatal Hernia: A condition when the stomach bulges through the diaphragm into the chest.
Overeating: 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.
Lying Down Right After a Meal: This can cause the meal to come back up in the throat and cause bouts of coughing and pain.
Obesity: Being obese can slow down your system and cause many digestion-related issues.
Consumption of Acidic Foods: Acidic foods such as citrus fruits, spices, etc., increase the chances of acid reflux in those already prone to hyperacidity. Alcohol, caffeine, and carbonated drinks cause an acidic environment.
Smoking: 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.
Pregnancy: 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 into the food pipe. Also, the growing fetus competes for space with the stomach forcing the acid contents back up.
Drugs: Certain drugs such as NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are notorious for causing heartburn.
It is a painful, burning sensation in the chest. Many patients often confuse it with chest pain due to a heart attack.
Bitter Taste in the Mouth:
Acid reflux can cause a foul and rancid taste in the mouth, giving a very unpleasant sensation.
It is a sensation of the belly feeling swollen and full, especially after eating.
Belching or Burping:
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.
Dryness of the Throat and Cough:
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 teeth' enamel and dentin layers, causing cavities and decay.
Over some time, reflux can cause a break in the stomach's protective lining, 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 due to the 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 the intestines.
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. Therefore, 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 X-ray procedure where you will be asked to swallow a barium solution before taking the radiograph to visualize the internal organs and problems better.
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 doctor interprets the results after this period. A newer, wireless method is also available, which is more convenient for the patient.
Treatment includes a combination of lifestyle modifications and medications. Sometimes, surgery may be indicated if the medication does not provide relief.
1. Lifestyle Modification:
Antacids are usually available over-the-counter in the form of chewable tablets as well as liquids. They help relieve 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 in two types such as H2 blockers and proton-pump inhibitors.
Proton-Pump Inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs are medications that block 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:
Fundoplication: 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 a hiatal hernia, the same procedure will also be used to provide relief.
Linx Device: A small ring made up of titanium beads with magnetic cores is surgically implanted at the stomach junction and food pipe (LES) to help tighten the valve. It keeps it closed so that the stomach contents do not regurgitate back into the esophagus even under pressure from gastric contents.
Hence, although common, acid reflux 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, the doctor suggests a stronger prescription medication.
Irrespective of the severity of your condition, it is important to change your eating pattern. Many have reported that shifting to a healthier diet and adding physical exercise brings about positive changes.
Acid reflux is a chronic digestive disease. These can be treated with OTC antacids, and some lifestyle changes can usually create relief. But when the heartburn occurs more than twice a week, and no lifestyle changes are giving you relief, you may be dealing with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). If left untreated, it can cause problems such as ulcers, strictures, and even cancer.
- 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:
30 Mar 2022 - 6 min read
Query: Hello doctor, I am a 35-year-old male having daily heartburn running for more than four months. Currently, having Omeprazole and Domperidone. Read Full »
Query: Hi doctor, I have got ulcers in my mouth due to chewing pan masala, and I have stopped eating it now. I am unable to eat spicy food and hot foods. I have developed stiffness in my inner mouth. So I am unable to open my mouth. Please suggest. Read Full »
Query: Hello Doctor, I have been suffering from stomach ulcer for the past 2 years. Till now the ulcer was not severe, but since few days I have been having stomach pain everytime after having food. Doctor diagnosed that, I have GERD. But even then I faced GERD problems rarely. But for the past 3 weeks ... Read Full »
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