Gastrointestinal issues can show up in a variety of different ways and cause myriad symptoms. Acid reflux is one of them and it’s becoming increasingly common in recent years.
The uncomfortable symptoms of acid reflux are sometimes hard to manage even with the most popular treatments, but it’s about preventing and not treating this condition that should be the main focus.
What is Acid Reflux?
Affecting about 20% of people in the US alone, acid reflux is a condition that occurs when the contents of your stomach move back up your esophagus. It’s also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER) or acid regurgitation. If the symptom persists for a while, occurs at least twice per week and it’s not dealt with, it can turn into a full-blown disease called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
In your body, it shows up as the impaired function of your lower esophageal sphincter that has the role of relaxing as you swallow food and tightening when that food passes down the esophagus. When that sphincter doesn’t close all the way or tighten properly, the contents of your stomach and the strong stomach acid they’re brewing in can travel back upwards your esophagus.
Acid reflux is a normal occurrence that can happen to anyone at any time and it can be caused by many different factors, but when it becomes chronic and the heartburn you feel starts impairing your daily tasks, that’s when you need to take a step back and find a way to deal and heal from this uncomfortable condition.
If left untreated, this condition as well as the disease can cause a variety of health complications, some of which can really impair your life quality.
Causes of Acid Reflux
There are no specific causes for acid reflux that science can point out, but certain factors definitely increase the risk of experiencing it. These include:
- Obesity and diabetes
- Chronic inflammation
- Hiatal hernia
- Eating a large meal at once
- Lying down or getting inverted soon after eating
- Using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Eating very acidic or fried foods
- Eating overly spicy foods
- Alcohol consumption
- Anxiety and high-stress situations
- Being diagnosed with kidney disease (renal failure) and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Symptoms of Acid Reflux
Acid reflux in itself is the symptom as the stomach acid travels up the esophagus and causes damage along the way. It’s coupled with other symptoms that together can develop into GERD. These include:
- Chest pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Troubles swallowing
- Hoarse voice
- Bruised esophagus
- Bad breath
You might also develop a bitter or sour taste in your mouth after eating as well as the regurgitation of food from the stomach, making you feel like you’ve “thrown up into your mouth.”
Diagnosing GER or GERD usually happens after a physical examination by your doctor who might recommend additional tests like an esophogram, upper endoscopy, manometry, and other types of probes that monitor your pH and learn how the stomach acid is regulated in your body over a few days period.
Treatments for Acid Reflux
The first rule of conduct when it comes to managing and treating acid reflux is changing your lifestyle habits. They are the easiest to start with and in many cases, the only necessary to stop the heartburn symptoms. The best things you can do for yourself are in your control and these include:
- Avoiding processed foods and excess sugar
- Losing unnecessary weight and focusing on maintaining healthy body composition
- Abstaining from harmful habits like smoking
- Limiting your alcohol intake
- Going for a walk after your meals instead of automatically lying down
- Avoiding large meals at once and instead spacing them out into smaller portions throughout the day
- Wearing loose-fitting clothes so that you avoid any pressure on the abdomen
- Avoiding certain foods that can trigger acid reflux such as fatty and fried foods, highly-acidic foods, as well as spicy foods
- Exercising regularly
- Including powerful superfoods into your daily meals to help lower inflammation and support your gastrointestinal health from the inside out
- Implementing stress management techniques and finding ways to deal with your anxiety
Your doctor might also suggest taking specific over-the-counter medications such as antacids, H2 receptor blockers, and Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) that lower the production of stomach acid and heal the lining of your lower esophageal sphincter.
In the most severe cases of GERD, surgery might be necessary and there are multiple different types of surgical procedures that your doctor might recommend, with bariatric surgery being the most common. As with any surgery, there is always the risk of complications and with bariatric surgery, also known as gastric bypass, acid reflux is listed as one of the main possible side effects.
Home Remedies for Acid Reflux
If you want to take the non-medical route, there are some known home remedies you can try to relieve your heartburn symptoms as well as lower the acid production in your stomach. Some of them include drinking a solution of baking soda and water, taking chewing gum, consuming ginger, as well as drinking milk.
That being said, these home remedies might not work for everyone and certain studies actually show they might even be detrimental to your healing journey and in turn cause stronger acid reflux.
Health Complications with Acid Reflux
If not dealt with in time, acid reflux can easily transition into GERD and potentially cause myriad health complications over time. From tooth enamel erosion and esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus) to esophageal cancer and Barrett’s esophagus (a permanent change in the cells of your esophageal lining), there are plenty of serious conditions that can be irreparable and cause life-threatening outcomes.
Acid reflux is a natural occurrence anyone can experience in their lifetime. It’s when these episodes become often and chronic that your reason for concern becomes valid. Changing your lifestyle habits and taking better care of yourself is usually enough to stop acid reflux from happening and prevent it from occurring again, but sometimes you might need medical intervention to really heal your esophagus.
Whatever the case may be, acid reflux is not to be neglected, and it’s one of those annoying and uncomfortable symptoms we all learn to live with until it becomes too hard to manage. Take care of yourself today so that you don’t have to worry about health complications down the line.