Acid reflux happens when the esophagus (the tube that connects our mouth to the stomach) becomes irritated and inflamed due to the regurgitation of stomach acid. But where do these stomach acids come from? Our stomach is one of the most important organs in the digestive system and is responsible for secreting acid that helps break down food, absorb nutrients, and produce hormones. The stomach naturally secretes hydrochloric acid, mainly composed of two ingredients: hydrogen ions and chloride ions. These ions activate enzymes — which break down food into molecules small enough to absorb the body.
When we eat, our food passes through the esophagus to reach the stomach, and there is a sphincter at the bottom of the esophagus. The sphincter is a muscular valve that opens to allow food to pass into the stomach. It works when it serves as a one-way passage and closes once the food has passed, preventing stomach acids from flowing back to the esophagus.
However, if the valve opens too much or doesn’t close fully, the stomach acids move up into the esophagus, which causes acid reflux — that burning sensation in the throat and chest area. The person suffering from acid reflux may also get a bloated feeling in the abdomen or experience difficulty swallowing food. In addition, some people experience heartburn when they bend over, eat heavy meals, exercise, or drink alcohol.
Stages of GERD
GERD has the following three stages:
- Mild GERD
- Moderate GERD
- Severe GERD
Each stage is identified with the severity of symptoms.
Mild GERD – Mild GERD symptoms are usually limited to the occasional heartburn or indigestion attack. This may be triggered by certain foods, stress, or other factors. Symptoms caused by mild acid reflux are not severe, but they can still affect sleep, moods, diet, and other aspects of everyday life.
Moderate GERD – Stage 2 or moderate GERD patients experience frequent heartburn and regurgitation. This condition occurs two to three times a week and needs medication to normalize things.
Severe GERD – Severe GERD causes heightened heartburn and constant discomfort. Patients must take medication to alleviate suffering, but medication doesn’t let them live regularly.
Symptoms of Acid Reflux
- Burning sensation in the chest
- Acid taste in the mouth
- Feeling full after only a small meal
- Have trouble swallowing even tiny amounts of food or liquid
- Bad breath
- Discomfort in the upper chest area
Doctors can diagnose acid reflux by looking for common symptoms. To ascertain the presence of the disease, there are three tests — esophageal pH monitoring, endoscopy, and manometry — that confirm the acid reflux diagnosis.
Acid Reflux Treatment – Depending on the severity of GERD, lifestyle changes can help to alleviate symptoms. In some situations, though, medication or even surgery is required to cure this disease.
Lifestyle changes – Avoid pressure on the abdomen, such as tight belts, specific exercises, and eating large or spicy meals. Also, avoid food that may trigger heartburn, such as peppermint, alcohol, chocolate, citrus fruits, caffeinated beverages, tomato sauce, and carbonated drinks.
For patients with mild symptoms, over-the-counter antacid medicines are available that can reduce their stomach acidity.
If OTC medication fails to give relief, doctors generally prescribe the following medicines to treat GERD:
- Antacids neutralize stomach acids, providing relief in the short term
- H-2 receptor blockers reduce stomach acid production
- Proton pump inhibitors are a more potent acid blocker that also let damaged esophagus tissue heal
If medications or lifestyle changes don’t completely resolve symptoms of acid reflux disease, surgery is an option for patients. Laparoscopic antireflux surgery is an effective way to treat GERD. A surgeon creates a valve at the bottom of the esophagus during the procedure, which stops acid from regurgitating into the esophagus. The surgery requires only tiny incisions along the abdomen, which heal quickly.
How To Prevent/Deal With Acid Reflux
Acid reflux’s causes are usually rooted in lifestyle and eating habits. By altering one’s lifestyle and being more mindful of food and beverage consumption, acid reflux can be managed or prevented. The following habits are helpful to gain control over acid reflux:
- Don’t eat right before going to bed
- Divide food intake into smaller portions
- Avoid wearing tight belts
- Reduce alcohol consumption
- Refrain from sitting and laying in postures that put stress on the stomach
- What causes acid reflux disease? Many different factors can cause acid reflux disease. The contents of one’s diet, pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter, and smoking are all things that can contribute.
- Which eating habits aggravate acid reflux? Eating too much, eating too fast, eating an unhealthy mix of food, or not chewing food well enough. In addition, food with high-fat content, carbonated drinks, and alcohol also aggravate acid reflux.
- Are heartburn and acid reflux disease the same? Occasional heartburn can’t be labeled as acid reflux disease as it is a common occurrence that most people are likely to experience once in a while. If heartburn occurs more than twice a week, though, it’s classified as acid reflux disease.
Healthier Me Today is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment. Always consult with your healthcare professional. Stay healthy!