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Acid Reflux

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Acid Reflux

Acid Reflux

For unknown reasons, the back-flow of acid from the stomach damages the esophagus, leading to acid reflux heartburn among other symptoms. This leaves a persistent burning chest sensation. When these symptoms recur twice or thrice a week, without visible relief even after medication, then it is considered as acid reflux.

Gastroesophageal acid reflux disease or GERD condition, is experienced when the stomach contents flow backwards. Both solid and liquid contents flow backwards from the stomach to the esophageal sphincter. The sphincter or LES comprises the tube running from the mouth to the stomach.

When the food tube, from the throat to stomach is not strong enough, it results in acid reflux. Food eaten is digested with the aid of acids produced and stored in the stomach. The stomach walls are designed to be strong enough to store this acid without damage.

The weakened barrier between the stomach and the esophagus, results in an abnormal state of relaxation in the esophageal sphincter. Acid reflux can also be responsible for respiratory and laryngeal symptoms. This kind of acid reflux is referred to as LPR Laryngopharyngeal reflux. It is unlikely to cause heartburn and is also referred to as the silent reflux.

GERD is likely to lead to Barrett’s esophagus. Progression from  Barrett’s syndrome to  dysphagia has a 20% likelihood of occurring. Patients suffering chronic heartburn are advised to take medication for EGD to reduce the chance of developing Barrett’s syndrome.

Causes of Acid Reflux

Acid Reflux

Acid Reflux

When food is ingested, it accesses the stomach from the throat through the esophagus, also referred to as food pipe or swallowing tube. Once the food is seated in the stomach, a ring of muscles fibers prevent the back-flow of food into the esophagus. These muscle fibers are referred to as the lower esophageal sphincter muscles or LES.

The LES separating the stomach from the esophageal, gives up at inappropriate times. When this happens, the entry of acid into the esophagus is left unblocked. These muscles are underdeveloped in infants and the occurrence of acid reflux is dramatically increased.

The food, in solid or liquid form, is likely to back-flow from the stomach if the sphincter muscles do not close properly. This is referred to as gastroesophageal reflux. The reflux leads to damage in the esophagus, accompanied by varied symptoms.

Risks associated with acid reflux include hiatal hernia. This is characterized by the part of the stomach moving above the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle that separates the chest from the abdominal cavity.

If not medically attended to, prolonged acid reflux attack can cause the erosion of the inner protective lining of the esophagus. This is  referred to as erosive esophagitis. A simple endoscopy performed by medical professionals, can reveal the presence of acid reflux, depending upon the extent of damage.

Other factors that increase the risk of GERD are alcohol, cigarettes and obesity. Pregnancy is also a potential trigger for heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux. Several drug medications can bring about or increase the risk.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux

  • A feeling that food may be stuck behind your breastbone

    Acid Reflux

    Acid Reflux

  • Heat pain or a burning sensation in the chest. Bending, stooping or eating while lying down  is likely to increase the pain. Antacids are effective in relieving these symptoms.
  • Less common symptoms include coughing, wheezing hiccups, hoarseness or change in voice, sore throat.
  • Regurgitation and pain when swallowing food are common symptoms associated with acid reflux.
  • Other less common Symptoms include excessive salivation, chest pain and nausea.
  • In infants and children, vomiting, coughing and other respiratory problems accompany the common symptoms .
  • An estimated 35% of babies are born with acid reflux and outgrow the condition between the ages of 1 to 2 years.
  • Less severe symptoms may not require tests. For severe or recurring symptoms just after treatment, a single or more tests may aid in diagnosing acid reflux or other complications.
  • Esophagogastricduedonoscopy EGD is helpful in diagnosing the cause. It examines the esophageal or swallowing tube for damages. The doctor inserts a thin tube attached to a camera through the mouth. The tube then passes from the esophagus stomach and small intestines.
  • Positive stool occult may also diagnose bleeding from an irritated esophagus.

Prevention of Acid Reflux

Acid Reflux

Acid Reflux

To reduce the occurrence of heartburn, avoid foods and beverages that are likely to trigger the symptoms. Carbonated beverages, caffeine, chocolate, whole fat diary products, citrus fruits and juices. Tomato sauce, tomatoes, fatty foods, alcohol, spearmint and peppermint are all possible triggers.

Relief can be obtained by elevating the upper body with extra pillows or raising your bed on blocks. Sleeping in a seated position also relieves the  symptoms. Special beds that can be elevated, similar to the ones used in hospitals can be of great assistance. Sleeping on the left side of your stomach is recommended to avoid heartburn and other symptoms of acid reflux.

Wearing tight fitting garments around your abdomen increases pressure on your stomach. This is likely to push food and stomach acids into the LES. It is also likely to cause heartburn.

Eating anytime you feel the urge is recommended. Skipping meals may later lead you to eat bigger meals. Small frequent meals are preferable to larger meals. Large meals cause over production of stomach acids. It is also advisable to avoid meals that can trigger your symptoms, especially before bedtime.

Chewing gum is recommended in between meals as it increases the production of saliva. This is necessary to wash down excess acid from the esophageal. As saliva is alkaline in nature, it partially neutralizes the acid. Cough drops halls and antacids also provide some relief. Mint flavored gums spearmint and peppermint gum should also be avoided because they worsen acid reflux.

Drinking Water dilutes the stomach acid and relieves the heartburn sensation. It is advisable to take a walk briefly after taking a meal. Sleeping immediately after a meal is not recommended, It is preferable to allow up to 4 hours after your dinner before retiring to bed. The good news is that if diagnosed early, acid reflux can be treated.

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