What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux results from the reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus. It is also called esophageal reflux or acid regurgitation.
Acid reflux causes extreme discomfort and burning pain known as heartburn in the lower chest area. Chronic heartburn can lead to health complications. If a person suffers from heartburn more often, they may have gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Causes of acid reflux
A ring of muscles called the gastroesophageal ring is present at the end of the esophagus and the opening of the stomach. The sphincter works by relaxing when you swallow food and letting it into your stomach. Then close and squeeze so that the food does not flow back into the throat.
When the sphincter does not close completely, the reflux of food causes acid regurgitation. Unlike the stomach, the lining of the esophagus is not adapted to protect against acid and gastric juices. Thus, it causes an extreme burning sensation in the chest.
Heartburn worsens when a person is lying down. It can last from minutes to several hours and is worse when lying down immediately after a late meal. Heartburn is felt in the upper part of the throat. Stomach fluid reaches the throat causing a bitter or sour taste. Other symptoms of GERD are
- Dry cough
- Pain when swallowing
- tooth erosion
- Bad breath
Risk factors that aggravate GERD
Lifestyle, some health conditions, and eating habits can increase the risk of GERD. Some of these factors are
- hiatal hernia
- connective tissue disorder
- The pregnancy
- Of smoking
- A diet low in dietary fiber
- Eating large, fatty meals.
- Go to bed immediately after eating
- Alcohol or fizzy drinks
- The spicy food
- Prolong the use of NSAID drugs
- Other drugs (antihistamines, calcium channel blockers, antidepressants)
If you have any of these factors in your routine, steps should be taken to change them to prevent heartburn and GERD.
Pain in acid reflux and heartburn is common and easy to diagnose. However, people can be confused by having these symptoms and often associate heartburn with problems like
- Chest pain
- Myocardial infarction
- pulmonary embolism
If there is no improvement in heartburn, despite lifestyle changes and medication, then investigation for GERD is needed.
- A gastroenterologist performs the following test to examine
- Endoscopy: imaging of the gastric tract by using a small camera
- Biopsy: Taking a sample of tissue by inserting a small tube-mounted camera into the esophagus
- Barium x-ray – taking X-ray images of the digestive tract after drinking a barium solution
- Esophageal manometry: measurement of esophageal pressure
- Impedance monitoring: the force of the esophageal tissues is measured by inserting a flexible tube
- pH monitoring: acidity test
GERD does not cause serious complications in most people. But it can lead to life-threatening complications if left untreated. Some of them are
- Esophagitis: inflammation of the esophagus
- Esophageal stricture: narrowing of the esophagus
- Barrett’s esophagus disorder: change in the lining of the esophagus
- Asthma: If you breathe from your stomach into your lungs, it can turn into a chronic cough or breathing problems. Caries, enamel erosion, gum problems
These complications can be prevented by relieving GERD symptoms.
Diet to avoid in GERD
Certain types of food and drinks can aggravate GERD symptoms in some people. Some of them are
- high fat foods
- Spicy food
- Citric fruits
- soft drinks
- Food triggers are different in different people. You can get rid of heartburn by avoiding specific foods that act as a trigger for you.
home remedies for GERD
You can adopt some simple remedies to lessen the symptoms of heartburn and GERD. You need some changes to your lifestyle and eating patterns. Lifestyle measures that can make a change include
- eating healthy food
- Avoid triggering foods
- eat smaller meals
- Avoid lying down after eating.
- Eating late at night.
- Give up smoking
- Drink apple cider vinegar mixed with water
- wear loose clothing
- exercise regularly
- Some herbal medicines can also relieve symptoms, but it varies from person to person.
The most commonly used medications to treat acid reflux are
Proton pump inhibitors: omeprazole, lansoprazole, esomeprazole, etc.
H2 receptor antagonists: cimetidine, ranitidine, etc.
These medications decrease the production of gastrointestinal acid and reduce the damage caused by acid reflux. H2 blockers are safe but can cause some side effects in some patients.
Over the counter drugs
Many people infrequently experience heartburn or indigestion at night after eating a heavy or fatty meal. Over-the-counter medications are the best remedy to reduce heartburn in these people.
There are dozens of brands available for these formulations called antacids. The one that suits you best and relieves symptoms can be discussed with a doctor.
Antacids provide immediate relief by rapidly reducing the acidity of stomach contents. These have chemical components.
- Calcium carbonate
- Sodium bicarbonate
- Magnesium hydroxide
Some other treatment options include
- Sucralfate Acid Suppressants
- potassium blockers
- TLESR – Transient Reducers of Lower Esophageal Sphincter Relaxation
- GABA receptor agonist
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
Lifestyle changes and medications are not responding adequately to alleviate the disease in some people. In such cases, doctors opt for surgical procedures as a last resort. There are multiple surgical procedures available for the treatment of GERD.
GERD in pregnancy
The chances of acid reflux increase in pregnant women. Even those women who do not have heartburn symptoms before pregnancy can also suffer.
Acid regurgitation in pregnancy is the result of hormonal changes. The muscles of the esophagus relax more often due to hormonal changes. Pressure on the stomach is also increased by the growing fetus and can cause gastric fluid to reflux into the esophagus.
Many over-the-counter medications are safe to use during pregnancy for GERD. However, it is better to consult your doctor.
GERD in babies
It is common for babies to spit up milk or even vomit a few times. But if the baby is spitting up milk or food frequently, then it’s important to get checked; the baby may have GERD. Other common symptoms in babies include
- refusal to eat
- trouble swallowing
- wet burps
- poor growth
- Frequent cough or pneumonia
- Difficulty to sleep
If these symptoms appear persistently in the baby, an appointment with the doctor is necessary.
Does GERD cause palpitations?
Heart palpitations are sensations of skipping a heartbeat or fluttering sensation. The person also feels like the heart is beating too fast or pumping harder.
GERD is unlikely to cause palpitations. A person may feel a tightness in the chest, but it is not palpitations.
In case of continuous palpitations, call the emergency help service.
GERD related to anxiety
In many patients with anxiety and depression, GERD symptoms can worsen. Researchers suggest that prolonged anxiety and depression lead to increased muscle tension. If prolonged stress affects the abdominal muscles, it can cause acid reflux. It is important to consult your doctor for advice.
Despite this, consulting physician-specific lifestyle changes are imperative in coping with depression and anxiety-related stress.
Once anxiety is reduced, GERD symptoms usually ease after that.
Is there a difference between GERD and heartburn?
Heartburn is a common symptom of acid reflux. It is not a chronic medical problem and it gets better after a while.
However, if a person suffers from acid reflux for more than twice a week, they should see a doctor for a GERD diagnosis.
GERD complications can become chronic if left untreated.