How Do You Get Acid Reflux Disease?
What is Acid Reflux?
How a person gets acid reflux disease is the result of a variety of genetic, age-related and environmental factors. Some are controllable and some are not.
Acid reflux, also known as Gastroesophageal reflux (GER), occurs when the sphincter at the lower end of the esophagus (LES) opens spontaneously and allows stomach contents to rise.
The esophagus is the tube where food flows from the mouth to the stomach. The digestive juices in the stomach, called acids, rise up with food and can irritate the esophagus.
When acid reflux arises, a burning sensation is often felt in the throat or chest. Fluid or food may also be tasted in the back of the mouth. GER is common and does not pose a threat if it rises occasionally. It poses a great threat if it rises often.
Continual reflux that occurs at least twice a week is called GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). GERD can lead to more serious health issues including permanent damage and sometimes one form of cancer.
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What are the Symptoms of GERD?
In adults, the most common symptom of GERD is heartburn, also known as acid indigestion.
This occurs as a burning pain in the lower area of the chest and the mid-section of the abdomen.
Mild and occasional forms of heartburn are easily treatable with over-the-county medications. Changes in diet also are helpful.
Other symptoms include hoarseness, sore throat, chronic throat clearing, post nasal drip, chronic cough, bad breath, regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, worsening asthma and earaches.
Children can have GERD without having heartburn. Some symptoms within children are like asthma symptoms -- dry cough and trouble swallowing.
Symptoms often become more frequent and more severe over time and can lead to serious complications if they are left without treatment.
5 Things to Know About Acid Reflux
What are the Causes of Acid Reflux?
Although it is unclear why some people attain GERD, there is a common denominator in most patients.
While the esophagus is transporting food to the stomach, the LES remains relaxed instead of opening and closing. This allows stomach acids to rise into the esophagus.
A hiatal hernia may also contribute to GERD. The muscle wall known as the diaphragm separates the stomach from the chest. It helps LES to stop acid from rising into the esophagus.
A hiatal hernia takes place when the upper part of the stomach and the LES move above the diaphragm. As a result, acid reflux becomes more common.
Although a hiatal hernia can strike people of any age, it is quite common in people over the age of 50.
In addition to a hiatal hernia, other factors that may contribute to GERD are pregnancy, obesity and smoking.
Acid Reflux Diet: What Foods Make It Worse?
Diet often plays a major role in the development of acid reflex. Certain foods should be avoided to keep acid reflux under control or help minimize the symptoms.
It is suggested that the following foods be minimally consumed.
- Garlic and onions
- Spicy foods
- Citrus fruits
- Alcoholic and caffeinated drinks
- Tomato-based foods (salsa, pizza, chili, spaghetti sauce)
- Fatty and fried food
When my doctor diagnosed the symptoms, he immediately prescribed medication. I took the medication only for a few weeks because I made major changes to my diet and discovered that coffee and colas were major triggers for the symptoms. Once I eliminated them from my diet, my symptoms vanished.
However, keep in mind that all situations are different.
Why Do I Get Acid Reflux at Night?
Some people experience the symptoms more often at night thanks to gravity.
During the day, when someone is sitting up or standing up, stomach contents have a more difficult time rising in the esophagus and causing the symptoms.
At night, when someone is lying down, the contents rise much more easily.
A person who experiences the symptoms at night can try a simple solution: They can use an extra pillow to prop up their head, which helps prevent the stomach acids from rising.
Personal note: I tried it, and it worked for me.
What is the Treatment for Acid Reflux?
After trying antacids and over-the-counter reflux medications, a health care physician should be seen if symptoms persist.
Doctors often recommend some lifestyle changes along with medication to get the reflux under control.
Some changes may include: eating smaller/more frequent meals, losing weight, quit smoking, wear loose fitting clothing, and avoid lying down after a meal for at least three hours.
More radical treatments include surgery.
The most common procedure at this time is fundoplication. The surgeon will first repair the hiatal hernia if one is present. He or she will then wrap the upper part of the stomach around the end of the esophagus with stitches.
The stitches create pressure at the end of the esophagus that helps prevent stomach acid and food from flowing up into the esophagus, according to the National Institutes of Health.
A second procedure called laparoscopic repair involves placing a tiny camera inside a thin tube that goes through several small cuts in the belly along with other surgical tools. The surgeonwill connect a laparoscope to a video monitor in the operating room. He or she repairs the damage while watching the inside of the belly on a monitor.
A new procedure called endoluminal fundoplication does not require cuts. Instead, a tiny camera on a flexible tool is passed through the mouth and down into the esophagus. The surgeon will place small clips where the esophagus meets the stomach. The clips help prevent food or stomach acid from backing up into the esophagus.
What are the Medications for Acid Reflux?
Antacids. Maalox, Tums, Mylanta and Rolaids are a few popular over-the-counter medications that help to neutralize stomach acid. These medications can work fast for relief, but they cannot reduce inflammation of the esophagus.
Oral Suspension Medications. Examples of these would be Carafate and Pepto Bismol. They are generally used to treat nausea, heartburn, ulcers and diarrhea.
Anti-gas Medications. Heartburn sometimes comes in conjunction with pressure and bloating. Phazyme, Beano and Gas-X aid in relieving pressure and come in tablet form.
What are the Symptoms in Children?
GERD can come about in older children and infants. The most common symptoms that occur are frequent vomiting, crying with feeding, refusal to eat, and persistent cough.
Sometimes other symptoms are blamed on acid reflux, but it is unknown if the reflux actually causes them.
Some of these conditions include poor growth, recurrent pneumonia and colic.
What are the Long-Term Complications from Acid Reflux?
If GERD continues untreated, serious complications may ensue.
Stomach acid can damage esophageal lining and cause bleeding and/or ulcers.
This can cause scars from damaged tissue, which will bring about the narrowing of the esophagus and swallowing will become difficult.
One possible result is Barrett’s esophagus, a pre-cancerous condition that increases the risk of esophageal cancer. The presence of Barrett's esophagus often requires expert medical care.
Sources of Information
The above article is for information purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice.
The sources for this article include:
"National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)." Heartburn, Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER), and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD). N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2013.
Anyone with symptoms of GERD should see a physician.
© 2013 Scott Bateman
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