Upon entering a food through your mouth down to your esophagus, there is a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that normally closes as soon as the food passes through. However, there are instances where the LES doesn’t function normally—it doesn’t close all the way or it opens too often. When this happens, the acid produced by the stomach can move back up into the food pipe, resulting in a symptom of a burning chest pain called heartburn. If acid reflux symptoms happen more than twice a week, it means that you have acid reflux disease, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Diseases resulting from acid reflux are the most common gut complaint seen by the hospital departments in the United States, though the exact figures vary.
Going into statistics, the American College of Gastroenterology says that over 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once a month, and at least 15 million as often as daily. Also, GERD is most common in Western countries, affecting an estimated 20 to 30 percent of the population.
Chronic heartburn can lead to serious complications.
What are the Symptoms of Acid Reflux Disease?
Common symptoms of acid reflux are heartburn and regurgitation.
Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. It got its title because of the burning sensation experience near the heart. The discomfort actually moves from the stomach to the abdomen or chest, or even up into the throat.
Regurgitation, meanwhile, is a sour or bitter-tasting acid backing up into the throat or mouth.
But aside from these two symptoms, there are other symptoms included such as:
- Hiccups that don’t let up
- Weight loss for no known reason
- Bloody or black stools or bloody vomiting
- Wheezing, dry cough, hoarseness, or a chronic sore throat
- Dysphagia — a narrowing of the esophagus, which creates the sensation of food being stuck in the throat
The Cause of Acid Reflux Disease
As explained above, the abnormal function of LES is the culprit in having heartburn, which is the primary symptom of acid reflux. But furthermore, its common cause is the stomach abnormality called hiatal hernia, which occurs when the upper part of the stomach and LES move above the diaphragm. The diaphragm serves as a wall to keep acid in our stomach, but if you have a hiatal hernia, acid can move up into the esophagus and cause symptoms of acid reflux disease.
Moreover, here are some additional reasons for acid reflux to persist.
- Being overweight or obese
- Low levels of physical exercise
- Eating a heavy meal and lying on your back or bending over at the waist
- Snacking close to bedtime
- Eating certain foods, such as citrus, tomato, chocolate, mint, garlic, onions, or spicy or fatty foods
- Drinking certain beverages, such as alcohol, carbonated drinks, coffee, or tea
- Active or passive smoking
- Pregnancy due to the extra pressure on the internal organs
- Taking medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, certain muscle relaxers, or blood pressure medications
Some of the treatment available for this disease is by taking medications or by improving lifestyle.
First, let’s explore the available medicine to relieve the symptoms.
According to an article, the main treatment options for acid reflux are PPIs, including omeprazole, rabeprazole, and esomeprazole; H2 blockers, including cimetidine, ranitidine, and famotidine; over-the-counter treatments, such as antacids, which are available to buy online; and alginate drugs, including Gaviscon.
Ppls and H2 blockers are both medications against acid reflux in GERD. The two decreases acid production and reduce the potential for damage caused by acid reflux. These are noted to be a generally safe and effective medication. However, they are not appropriate for all people with reflux disease and can cause side effect just like any prescription drug. They can cause problems absorbing nutrients which leads to malnutrition, as an example.
OTC (on-the-counter) remedies are available for those people who perhaps trigger heartburn or indigestion by the occasional eating and drinking. OTC treatments can reduce the acidity of the stomach contents.
There are dozens of brands of the liquid and tablet formulations that have similar effectiveness called antacids. They contain chemical compounds such as calcium carbonate, sodium bicarbonate, magnesium hydroxide, and aluminum and they provide rapid but short-term relief by decreasing the acidity of the stomach contents. The can also inhibit nutrient absorption, leading to deficiencies over time. Antacids may not work for everyone, and any need for regular use should be first asked with a doctor.
On the other hand, improving these aspects of your lifestyle may help reduce the acid reflux symptoms you are experiencing.
Try improving your posture. For instance, sitting up straighter. Through this technique, you can avoid adding pressure on your abdomen that serves sometimes as a triggering factor of acid reflux. Additionally, you may want to decrease the pressure on your abdomen by wearing not so tight belts and/or avoiding doing sit-up exercises.
Wearing loose clothing may also help relieve the heartburn. Most of the time, tight clothes, just like a belt and sitting up, triggers the acid in our stomach to go back up on the food pipe.
Also, if you are obese or overweight, try to lose weight.
And last but definitely not the least, stop smoking. It might be the reason behind the acid reflux you are experiencing.
Risk and Complications
We’ve mentioned earlier that acid reflux symptoms that persist more than two weeks are known as GERD. Without treatment, GERD can lead to a serious complication in the long term, which include the risk of cancer.
Persistent exposure to stomach acid can damage the esophagus, resulting in:
- Esophagitis. When the lining of the esophagus is inflamed, it will cause irritation, bleeding, and ulceration.
- Strictures. Damage caused by stomach acid may lead to scar development and difficulties swallowing. Food has also a high chance to stuck as it travels down the esophagus.
- Barrett’s esophagus. This is a serious complication where repeated exposure to stomach acid results in changes in the cells and tissues lining the esophagus with a potential development into cancer cells.