Acid reflux is a common symptom for many chronic diseases like GERD. It happens to everyone at some point in life. Nowadays one in five people are suffering from acid reflux and is more common in Western countries. The main symptom of acid reflux is the burning sensation in the stomach, which is also known as heartburn. First, let’s learn what heartburn/GERD is, and then move on to acid reflux. So that it will be easy for you to understand the differences between them.
What is Heartburn?
Heartburn is nothing but a burning pain or irritation, which usually happens in the lower chest area. It is caused due to the backup of stomach acid into the food pipe, i.e, the esophagus. It is quite normal and lasts from a few minutes to hours. But chronic heartburn leads to deadly diseases.
What is GERD?
The full form of GERD is Gastroesophageal reflux disease. GERD is diagnosed when acid reflux occurs continuously for more than two weeks. In short, chronic acid reflux is the first and main symptom of GERD.
The American College of Gastroenterology says that approximately 60 million Americans experience heartburn or acid reflux at least once a month, and more than 15 million people often suffer from acid reflux daily.
Now we’ll come to acid reflux. What is acid reflux?
Normally, the food we eat is chewed thoroughly in the mouth and reaches the stomach through the food pipe, which is also called the esophagus.
At the entrance of your stomach, there is a valve called the Lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The main function of this valve is to open and close as soon as the food passes through it. That is, the valve opens for the food to enter into the stomach and immediately shuts down to prevent the food from flowing back.
In the stomach, it produces a strong hydrochloric acid that helps in the digestion process. This strong acid is called stomach acid and is responsible for faster digestion. It also kills the pathogens in the stomach. The inner lining of the stomach is adapted to the stomach acid but the esophagus does not.
So if the LES is not closed properly, the acid produced by your stomach might move up into the esophagus and create a burning sensation or discomfort in the chest area and the abdomen. This burning feeling is called heartburn.
If heartburn happens more than twice a week, then it is called acid reflux disease or acid regurgitation, or gastroesophageal reflux. If it continues even more then it is called chronic acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Here the stomach acid persistently flows back up to your mouth giving a sour taste. This leads to various other symptoms.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), about 20 percent of people are affected by GERD in the United States. If left untreated, it can sometimes cause serious complications.
What Causes Acid Reflux Disease?
A common cause for acid reflux disease is the abnormality of the stomach called a Hiatal hernia. This occurs when the upper part of the abdomen and the lower esophageal valve move above the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates your abdomen from your chest.
In general, the diaphragm helps keep acid in our stomach. But if you have a hiatal hernia, then the acid can go up to your esophagus and cause symptoms of acid reflux disease. There are some common risk factors that cause acid reflux disease. They include;
1. Certain foods and drinks
Many people usually get acid reflux after eating certain foods. For example, foods that are high in fats, acid, spicy foods, carbonated drinks, etc are the risk factors. Those foods may be difficult to digest and so the stomach produces extra acid for digestion, which can end up in the esophagus causing acid reflux. Such foods include:
Chocolate: High in fat, cocoa, and caffeine that causes reflux.
Soda/Carbonated drinks: Highly acidic
Fried Foods: Deep-fried foods have high-fat content, which leads to reflux.
Alcohol: Beer, wine, and liquor are highly acidic
Dairy products: High-fat butter and cheese may also be a cause.
Coffee: High is caffeine. Instead of coffee, you can switch to green tea or herbal teas.
High-fat meats, onions, garlic, mint, tomatoes, oranges, etc are also some other foods that cause acid reflux.
Excess fat in the abdomen adds pressure to the stomach, which pushes up acid into the esophagus. Hormones can also play a role in acid reflux. People who are obese have high estrogen, which is associated with GERD symptoms.
3. Hiatal Hernia
A hiatal hernia is a disease caused when the upper part of your stomach swells up into your chest cavity, blocking the LES from closing properly.
In many people, Hiatal hernias do not show any symptoms, while in others it is a symptom of GERD. It is more common above the age of 50.
4. Eating a Large Meal
Eating a heavy meal at any time can trigger acid reflux, but it is very troublesome if you do it before going to bed. Lying down when the stomach is full is an easy way to push the acid back into the esophagus.
Smoking can damage your digestive system as well as many other parts of your body. Smoking and chewing tobacco can lead to reflux by relaxing the LES.
Almost all pregnant women experience acid reflux. It can start at any point during their pregnancy. The uterus enlarges and increases the pressure in the abdomen. Hormones will be higher, which tends to relax the sphincter muscle causing reflux.
Though medications relieve us from various ailments, they all have side effects. And sometimes the side effect may be acid reflux. Medications that make reflux worse include:
- Pain relievers like ibuprofen and aspirin
- Antihistamines for allergies
- Blood pressure drugs
- Tricyclic antidepressants
- Oral osteoporosis drugs
- Anticholinergic drugs
- Certain antibiotics, including tetracycline
- Iron and potassium supplements
So consult your doctor if any of your medications can contribute to reflux. So they can suggest an alternative without having any side effects.
Almost everyone will have experienced stress at least once in their lifetime. Experts have theorized that anxious people may produce more stomach acid during the time of stress. Therefore, stress can also trigger acid reflux.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease that attacks the connective tissue of the body. Many people complain of acid reflux as a symptom of Scleroderma. Tissue scarring with scleroderma causes food to move very slowly through your digestive tract, which in turn prevents the LES from closing properly.
Symptoms of Acid Reflux Disease
Heartburn: The first and foremost symptom of acid reflux is heartburn. It is an uncomfortable feeling or burning pain from your stomach to your chest or abdomen. It can move even up to your throat.
Regurgitation: Due to the backing up of acid to your throat, you’ll experience a sour or bitter taste in your mouth.
These two are the common symptoms that most people experience. Acid reflux disease also have other symptoms;
- Bloating: You may feel like bulging in the stomach area and it hurts heavily.
- Dysphagia: Have trouble swallowing food. You may feel the food being stuck in your throat.
- Belching or Burping: Excess gas is released from your upper digestive tract through the mouth.
- Respiratory diseases: Dry cough, wheezing, hoarseness, or chronic sore throat
- Hiccups that don’t let up
- Nausea and vomiting sometimes can lead to bloody vomits.
- Bloody or black stools
- Weight loss without any reason
Do children are affected by Acid Reflux Disease?
Yes, Of course. Children and Infants too, experience acid reflux. They also have similar symptoms as well.
- Frequent small vomiting
- Excessive crying
- Does not like eating
- Difficulty in breathing
- Hoarse throat
- Bad breath
- Experience the sour taste of acid, especially when lying down.
- Difficulty in sleeping, especially infants.
- Feeling of choking that wakes up your baby
When to call the healthcare provider?
Acid reflux is not a big disease. It can be treated easily at home with antacids or medicinal herbs that we use daily. But if you experience acid reflux more than twice a week then constantly take antacids to get rid of it. But if it continues over a period of several weeks, then immediately consult your healthcare provider.
Because continuing for several weeks can be a sign of some chronic diseases like GERD, Esophagitis, Barrett’s esophagus, and even cancer. So your doctor will examine your digestive tract through an endoscopy and will give proper medications. Antacids and acid blockers are the commonly used medications for acid reflux disease.
How to prevent the symptoms of Acid Reflux?
We all know that prevention is the first step in curing diseases. Changing your lifestyle and diet is one of the most effective ways to treat acid reflux disease. Here are a few steps that help prevent acid reflux disease.
- Avoiding certain foods and beverages: Foods that are highly acidic, high in fats, caffeine, and carbonated drinks can trigger acid reflux. Preventing those foods can help you relieve acid reflux.
- Eat frequent smaller meals throughout the day rather than heavy meals. This will largely help reduce acid reflux.
- Don’t lie down as soon as you eat. Wait at least 2 to 3 hours and then go to bed.
- Raise your head while sleeping: Put some wooden blocks or books for at least 4 inches and then keep your head. So that your head and chest will be lifted up to some inches higher than your feet. This prevents acid reflux.
- If you feel sleepy in the daytime, then try to sleep in a chair.
- Avoid wearing tight-fit clothes in the belly area. This gives too much pressure to your stomach and pushes acid up into the esophagus.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Reduce fat by avoiding or consuming less amount of oils, butter, fatty meats, gravy, salad dressings, and dairy products such as whole milk and cheese.
- Sit upright while eating
- Quit smoking
- Avoid alcohol consumption
- Confirm whether any medication you’re taking could trigger acid reflux disease.
Natural Remedies for Acid Reflux Disease
There are also some home remedies that are commonly used for treating heartburn. Its effectiveness is also proved scientifically. So you can also try out herbal remedies without any confusion.
Peppermint is most often found in tea and sweets. However, peppermint oil has been traditionally used for relieving headaches, colds, nausea, indigestion, and other stomach problems.
Some research with peppermint oil has shown improvement with the symptoms of acid reflux in many people. But remember that you should not take both peppermint oil and antacids at the same time. If so, it might increase the chance of acid reflux.
Ginger root has been traditionally used in the treatment of nausea and other gastrointestinal diseases including heartburn or acid reflux. In fact, in the earlier stages of pregnancy, women suffer heavily from morning sickness or nausea. So they were recommended ginger candies and ginger ale as short-term measures for nausea.
It is said that ginger root contains anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce swelling and irritation in the esophagus. Unless you take too much, this ginger root will not show any side effects.
Chamomile is owned with soothing properties that help reduce heartburn and cures indigestion. A single cup of chamomile tea regularly can cure acid reflux. But it should be avoided if you’re allergic to ragweed.
Licorice root resists the burning effects of stomach acid by increasing mucous in the esophageal lining. This in turn reduces your pain.
There are also some other herbs used traditionally to treat acid reflux. But there is no clinical evidence to support their beneficial effects. Those herbs include;
- Caraway seeds
- Milk thistle
- Garden angelica
- Lemon balm
These are available in the form of oils, capsules, and teas. But always consult your doctor before you start using them.
Are There Any Other Natural Treatments for Acid Reflux?
Melatonin, a sleep supplement, is recommended to relieve heartburn.
Antioxidant-rich vitamin supplements are also typically used to prevent acid reflux. It provides enough vitamins A, C, and E that are needed in preventing acid reflux.
Some supplements can interact with medications that you’re taking already or it might cause some side effects. So it is better to get legal advice from your doctor before taking any herbal medicine.
Can Drinking Milk Help Relieve Acid Reflux?
Yes, it’s true. Drinking a glass of milk can temporarily stop stomach acid from flowing backward. As milk contains a high amount of fat, it stimulates the stomach to produce more acid. So drink only 8 ounces of skim milk as a snack.
Changing your diet and lifestyle can keep you away from acid reflux disease. It may soothe your pain and prevent other complications.
Although acid reflux is a common disease, it can sometimes put you under serious health problems. So be careful and cautious about your health.
If you experience burning pain for the first time in your chest area, then it is important to see a doctor as soon as you feel it. So that it will be properly diagnosed.