Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid climbs up to the food pipe by getting past the valve between the stomach and gullet.
To be able to comprehend this digestive disorder, we should understand the working method of the aforementioned valve. The valve-like muscle located somewhere between the food pipe and the stomach opens while eating and drinking to allow foods to pass into the stomach then closes again. This barrier, known as a gastroesophageal sphincter in medicine, inhibits stomach acids or contents in the stomach to rise up to the oesophagus ( food pipe ).
However, for no obvious reason, sometimes this valve doesn’t close tightly after letting food goes into the stomach. As a consequence of this malfunction, stomach acid rises up to the oesophagus and causes a burning sensation.
Many of us must have, at least a couple of times, experienced the burning sensation near to chest area. Starting from this point, it is safe to say that acid reflux is a rather prevalent digestive problem. Especially in western countries where the occurrence rate of this disease is higher than in other parts of the world.
Due to the burning sensation, this digestive problem is also known as ” heartburn “. In general, heartburn happens after having a large meal or whilst lying down.
As mentioned above, we all may experience this burning sensation every now and again. Yet, when this digestive disorder occurs frequently ( at least twice a week), it is called gastroesophageal reflux disease ( GERD).
GERD can cause serious health problems, therefore, it has to be treated under physician supervision. Additionally, the severity of the problem too will be determined by the physician. As a result of the examination, surgery may be required ( rare ).
There are also over-the-counter medications to ease the problem
Main Causes Of Acid Reflux
In fact, no one knows the exact cause of acid reflux. However, the occurrence of acid reflux is attributed to some triggering factors. For instance; lifestyle is a strong factor when it comes to heartburn. But, this is not always the case. The disease namely; Hiatal hernia is one of the underlying reasons for heartburn but has nothing to do with lifestyle.
Heartburn can be seen in all age groups but is more common in adults. The followings are the most common causes or factors for acid reflux.
At the beginning of the article, we have mentioned that acid reflux is more common in the western world. This situation might show parallelism with the fact the prevalence of obesity is also high in Western countries.
The findings suggest that excess belly fat makes pressure on the stomach, thereby, increasing the risk of heartburn.
Actually, digestive system problems are common in the pregnancy period. Not only heartburn but also diarrhoea, bloating, constipation can occur during pregnancy.
Heartburn is thought to occur when the baby in the mother’s belly generates pressure over the internal organs including the stomach. In addition to these, the hormonal changes too — that happens in the mother’s body in pregnancy — can cause acid reflux.
There is a strong link between nicotine ( in tobacco products ) and acid reflux. How nicotine increases the risk of acid reflux is about its effect on the aforementioned valve. Nicotine relaxes the valve ( gastroesophageal sphincter ) and, as a consequence of this, heartburn becomes almost unavoidable.
By no means do all smokers necessarily experience this digestive disorder. Nevertheless, it bears repeating, nicotine found in tobacco products is a strong triggering factor for acid reflux.
4- Eating Habits
After all the main subjects are; food pipe, stomach, sour taste all of which are about nutrition. For this reason, it would be counterintuitive not to mention the diet and our eating habits while talking about this digestive disorder.
There is a couple of foods and drinks that cause or worsen heartburn. For instance, too much coffee and alcohol are among the drinks that trigger acid reflux. Additionally, spicy foods, fatty foods such as nuts, avocados, chocolate, citrus fruits, tomatoes, peppermint, etc. can be held accountable for causing acid reflux.
Furthermore, not only what we eat but also when and how much we eat can trigger acid reflux. Especially, big portions eaten late in the night can cause many digestive problems by tiring the stomach in the long run.
5- Hiatal Hernia
Hiatal hernia is an abnormality that occurs in the upper side of the stomach. This specific problem has nothing to do with the lifestyle of an individual.
Hiatal hernia is one of the major causes of acid reflux and the exact cause of this abnormality is not known. Especially, people older than 50 are more vulnerable to developing this digestive problem.
Like most of us know, stress causes directly or indirectly many diseases and ailments. This time stress is not the main culprit for this disease.
However, there are scientific studies that demonstrate the relationship between stress and heartburn. One of these scientific studies suggests that stress can be a major trigger for heartburn along with worsening the symptoms.
Despite the fact that, particularly, prescription medicines help us overcome diseases and ailments, they can sometimes cause side effects. In this point, it is relevant to say that, there are some medicines known to trigger heartburn.
Not only medicines but also dietary supplements – which are in huge demand nowadays – appear as the culprits in this issue.
Some supplements and medicines directly cause heartburn whereas others worsen the pre-existing symptoms. Some of them are; aspirin, muscle relaxers, antibiotics, iron supplements, anti-anxiety drugs.
8 -Helicobacter Pylori
There are controversial claims as to whether or not Helicobacter pylori ( an infection ) can cause acid reflux. Even though, helicobacter pylori is a risk factor for peptic ulcers, its effect on acid reflux is still subject of debate.
However, there is a scientific study that suggests that Helicobacter pylori may cause acid reflux by increasing gastric acid secretion.
Acid Reflux ( Heartburn ) Symptoms
The reason that acid reflux is called ” heartburn ” is related to the burning sensation happening around the chest area as acid liquid climbs up to the food pipe. This one is the most common sign of acid reflux.
Sour Taste :
If the stomach acid reaches the mouth and brings about a sour taste, then the existence of acid reflux should be considered. Having said that, other factors such as poor oral hygiene, pregnancy etc. can also cause a sour taste in the mouth.
Burning sensation in the throat and chest would most likely accompany the sour taste in the mouth.
Sore Throat :
When stomach acid leaks up to the mouth through the food pipes, it irritates the throat. For this reason, individuals may experience soreness and itchiness in the throat along with hoarseness in the voice.
Bad Breath :
When the stomach contents including acid liquid travel from the stomach towards the mouth, many symptoms such as heartburn, sore throat, sour taste occur. The arrival of the stomach content ( acid ) to the mouth could cause bad breath. Therefore, bad breath is a symptom that individuals with acid reflux can experience.
Chest Pain :
Chest pain is one of the most common symptoms of acid reflux. A chest pain that occurs shortly before a heart attack and chest pain induced by acid reflux resemble each other.
Therefore, it is rather difficult, if not impossible, to tell apart. Due to this resemblance, many patients are known to gone hospitals on suspicion of having a heart attack when they felt chest pain caused by acid reflux.
Stomach acid leaks back up into the food pipe and sometimes causes severe chest pain along with other symptoms.
Treatment of Acid Reflux
1- Medical Examination
As emphasised in the introduction of the article, visiting a doctor ( internist ) over the heartburn problem regardless of the severity of the problem will bring the best result. This is because going to the hospital at the onset of the disease can prevent the disease from progressing to a more advanced level.
On the other hand, if the acid reflux has turned into GERD — heartburn that happens more often than twice a week — the internist will apply the most suitable treatment method.
Shortly, medical examination always plays a significant role when it comes to acid reflux.
2- Lifestyle Changes
The first phase of acid reflux treatment starts with a lifestyle modification since the way we live, the way we eat even the way we sleep can trigger heartburn.
According to doctors; the changes only in lifestyle can be strong enough to prevent this digestive disorder.
For instance, not lying down after eating, avoiding alcohol and carbonated drinks, eating less more frequently, sleeping on your left are among the small but effective ways to ease or treat heartburn.
3- Drugs for Heartburn
There are a great number of effective prescription drugs used in heartburn treatment. However, the doctor will prescribe the best medication after the examination. The prescribed drug should be taken by the patient regularly so that the treatment brings positive results.
4- Acid Reflux Surgery
From time to time, chronic acid reflux symptoms can’t be treated in spite of the above-mentioned treatment methods including converting a healthy diet, avoiding alcohol-cigarette or regular use of prescription drugs. Under these circumstances, surgery is required to fix the problem.
If the problem goes untreated, then complications such as oesophagus tissue damage, inflammation, oesophagal ulcers, Barrett’s oesophagus, bleeding and even cancer can emerge. Additionally, the damage can be permanent.
Alarm Signals of Acid Reflux
The following symptoms indicate the urgency of the situation.
• Painful swallowing
° Difficulty swallowing
° Stenosis ( abnormal narrowing in food pipe )
• Enlarged Liver
This syndrome is often attributed to an abnormality in the forming cells of the oesophagus ( food pipe ). The underlying reason for this syndrome in the cell structure of the oesophagus is explained by long-term stomach acid exposure.
When the oesophagus is exposed to stomach acid for an extended period of time, the cells in the lower part of the oesophagus begin to transform into stomach-specific cells in order to protect themselves against stomach acid exposure.
Therefore, when GERD is left untreated, it can cause Barrett’s Esophagus. Let’s not forget, people with Barrett’s Esophagus are more likely to develop oesophagal cancer. Therefore, it is important to treat GERD before causing Barrett’s Esophagus.
Recommendations For Acid Reflux
- Eating at regular intervals ( small portions but frequently )
- Chewing foods thoroughly
- Drinking 30 minutes before or after the meal ( not whilst eating )
- Cutting the last meal at least two hours before bedtime
- Avoid sleeping on a full stomach
Foods to Avoid for Acid reflux
After talking about the scary things such as surgery, cancer, bleeding and so forth; it is time to give good news. Acid reflux ( most of the time ) can be controlled with a well-designed diet.
There are some types of foods that an individual should not consume to prevent acid reflux.
- Alcohol Drinks
- Spicy Foods
- Fatty Foods, including healthy ones such as walnuts and avocados.
- Citrus Fruits
- Garlic and Onion
- Tomato-based Foods
Tarkan is an experienced health writer ( currently more than 600 articles ) and also the founder of this website namely www.neededforhealth.com. His expertise in health stems from in-depth medical research and knowledge which he obtained over the course of many years.
Tarkan enjoys sharing factual knowledge on health, psychology and nutrition. He always aims to deliver evidence-based recommendations, provide links to related scientific studies.