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
  • Chocolate
  • Alcoholic and caffeinated drinks
  • Tomato-based foods (salsa, pizza, chili, spaghetti sauce)
  • Fatty and fried food

Personal Note

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.

Physicians perform laparoscopic stomach surgery. The surgery will involve the removal of the gall bladder to help alleviate acid reflux disease.
Physicians perform laparoscopic stomach surgery. The surgery will involve the removal of the gall bladder to help alleviate acid reflux disease. | Source

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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Comments 13 comments

promisem profile image

promisem 13 days ago Author

SavvyDating, a good diet does help lessen the symptoms of acid reflux. Unfortunately, it doesn't work in all cases.

That being said, I found that changing my diet had some other benefits. I ended up with less joint pain thanks to the decline of inflammation.

Thanks for your comments!

savvydating profile image

savvydating 13 days ago

This article is very interesting. I've actually never had acid reflux; however, I often hear people talking about it. Now I have a good idea what others are experiencing. Gosh.

The good news is that changing the diet seems to help in most cases. Thank goodness for that!

promisem profile image

promisem 6 months ago Author

Emily, thank you for this useful insight. It will be very helpful to anyone else who reads the article. I'm glad to hear that doctors were able to diagnose your condition.

Emily Lye 6 months ago

I was diagnosed with celiac disease about ten years ago, an autoimmune illness that is triggered by gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley and rye. I am intolerant to gluten -- my immune system sends out antibodies in response to this large protein molecule that it recognizes as "bad". Celiac is common, but is ridiculously under-diagnosed and/or MIS- diagnosed, particularly in North America. One of the main symptoms of gluten intolerance is GERD. Anyone with persistent heartburn/acid reflux should ask for the celiac blood panel, and if the result is positive, one knows that he/she has it. Up to a third of all negatives are false, so a negative result is really meaningless -- the patient should try a strictly gluten-free diet for at least three months, to test dietary response.

promisem profile image

promisem 9 months ago Author

Jonny, I have heard many other people say they feel much better without wheat. I'm moving in that direction, but I don't think I need to give it up altogether yet. Thanks for the tip.

jonnycomelately profile image

jonnycomelately 9 months ago from Tasmania

@ Promisem, I cannot be certain whether the different breads affect me the same way. The suspicion is they do. My gut feeling (pardon the pun) is that wheat itself is the problem. Suffice to say I feel so much better without it, there's a reluctance to experiment further.

promisem profile image

promisem 9 months ago Author

Aelbasha, I completely agree that medical advice is a necessary step. Thanks for your comments.

Jonny, do you feel the same effects whether the wheat is whole or processed?

I was surprised at how much my joint pain declined after making the diet changes.

jonnycomelately profile image

jonnycomelately 9 months ago from Tasmania

I can confirm that wheat products, e.g., bread, pasta, cakes and pasties are almost absent from my diet now, with tremendous positive results. Only the very occasional dispepsia, usually after eating too much sugar or eating too fast. (In the latter case, I suspect it can be accompanied by some anxiety of something, but this is only a guess on my part.)

The things I loved to eat in the past were hot buttered toast, scones (with butter or cream and jam), muffins, sponges, etc. They all demand continuing self-discipline in order to keep off them. And I continue to take Nexium 20 in order to protect myself from that potential cancer threat (Barrett's Mucosa).

Rice cakes and corn cakes have proved useful substitutes for bread.

Along with reduction in digestive symptoms, the pain in my shoulder and hip joints have totally disappeared during the past 6 months.

The Website I got most encouragement from was: -- lots of interesting and informative points there, you might care to look into it.

Aelbarsha profile image

Aelbarsha 9 months ago from Benghazi/Libya

Nice GERD review!

I agree with what you did regarding shifting to specific dietary elimination as a substitute for medications, and I agree with you also in that it's not applicable for any person with GERD. In fact, GERD is a wide spectrum of symptoms, as well as esophageal pathological changes, which don't correlate with each other. That's why a medical consultation in many instances is recommended.

promisem profile image

promisem 19 months ago Author

I agree completely about the impact. I'm surprised at how many people I tell about the improvements to my health after making big changes to my diet. I don't think they realize what a difference it makes.

Can't entirely give up colas. I still get a hankering for a burger, fries and coke now and then.

jonnycomelately profile image

jonnycomelately 19 months ago from Tasmania

It is my understanding that taking Nexium will reduce my chances of oesophageal cancer to almost zero.

When in South India, and more recently in Philippines, I have found their predominantly rice and spices diet to be very friendly for my reflux. Also, I was at the same time not eating wheat products like bread and cakes.

So, now I am trying to keep off any wheat products (not totally successful but getting there) and both my digestive and arthritic (bursitis of hips and shoulder) have very much improved.

I never drink colas, think they are absolutely useless for our bodily health, although I do still drink instant coffee, 1-3 times a day.

Looking at our food/drink intake can have a really great impact on health generally.

promisem profile image

promisem 19 months ago Author

Thanks for your comment, Jonny. My doctor immediately prescribed Nexium without any kind of conversation about factors that might have been causing my acid reflux.

After reading more and experimenting with diet, I found that eliminating coffee and colas not only relieved my symptoms but also reduced other forms of inflammation as well.

jonnycomelately profile image

jonnycomelately 19 months ago from Tasmania

Useful and well written hub, thank you.

I suffer hiatus hernia and have some Barrett's Mucosa, well under control with Nexium daily. When I started with this medication, about 5 years ago, it made an enormous difference to my gastric comfort, especially when going to bed at night.

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