The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a ring of muscle located at the entrance to the stomach. The LES normally shuts as soon as food passes into it. The acid created by your stomach will go up into your esophagus if the LES does not close completely or opens too often. This can result in complications such as heartburn, which is characterized by a burning sensation in the stomach. Acid reflux disease, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can occur if you have acid reflux symptoms more than twice a week. Understand what acid reflux causes in this article.
What Acid Reflux Causes
Acid reflux can cause sore throats, hoarseness, and even a bad taste in your mouth. Acid reflux is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD when it causes chronic symptoms. Heartburn is the most prominent sign of GERD, causing inflammation in the upper abdomen and chest that may feel like you’re having a heart attack. Acid reflux is caused by three conditions: inadequate esophageal digestion of food or acid, too much acid in the stomach, and delayed stomach emptying, according to Dr. Jacqueline Wolf, a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and author of A Woman’s Guide to a Healthy Stomach: Taking Control of Your Digestive Health. If you’ve been having repeated episodes of heartburn—or any other symptoms of acid reflux, you might want to read this article on what acid reflux causes.
What causes acid reflux disease
A hiatal hernia, a stomach abnormality, is a frequent cause of acid reflux disease. This is as the upper section of the stomach and the LES pass over the diaphragm, which is a muscle that connects the stomach to your chest. Normally, the diaphragm aids in the retention of stomach acid. However, if you have a hiatal hernia, the acid will travel up into your esophagus and induce acid reflux symptoms.
There are several additional risk factors for acid reflux disease like:
- Eating large meals or lying down right after a meal
- Being overweight or obese
- 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
- Being pregnant
- Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, certain muscle relaxers, or blood pressure medications
GERD impacts people of all ages for a variety of causes, some of which are unexplained. It is often caused by a lifestyle impact, but it can also be caused by factors that cannot often be avoided.
A Hiatal (or hiatus) hernia is one unpreventable cause. An opening in the diaphragm causes the upper portion of the stomach to penetrate the chest cavity, causing GERD. Some risk factors, on the other hand, are more readily managed:
- smoking (active or passive)
- low levels of physical exercise
- medications, including drugs for asthma, calcium-channel blockers, antihistamines, painkillers, sedatives, and antidepressants
Acid reflux can also be caused by pregnancy due to the added pressure exerted on the internal organs.
Acid reflux has been attributed to the following foods and eating habits:
- a high intake of table salt
- a diet low in dietary fiber
- eating large meals
- lying down within 2 to 3 hours of eating a meal
- consuming chocolate, carbonated drinks, and acidic juices
According to a new review, dietary changes could be as effective as proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) in managing acid reflux.
Symptoms of acid reflux disease
Common symptoms of acid reflux are:
- Heartburn: a burning pain or discomfort that may move from your stomach to your abdomen or chest, or even up into your throat
- Regurgitation: a sour or bitter-tasting acid backing up into your throat or mouth
Other symptoms of acid reflux disease include:
- Bloody or black stools or bloody vomiting
- Dysphagia — the sensation of food being stuck in your throat
- Hiccups that don’t let up
- Weight loss for no known reason
- Wheezing, dry cough, hoarseness, or chronic sore throat
How can you diagnose acid reflux disease
If you have acid reflux problems twice a week or more, or if drugs aren’t providing long-term relief, it’s time to visit the doctor. Heartburn symptoms are important in diagnosing acid reflux disease, particularly if dietary modifications, antacids, or acid-blocking drugs help mitigate these symptoms. If these measures do not work, or if your symptoms are repeated or serious, your doctor can prescribe tests to confirm a diagnosis and rule out other issues. You can need one or more of the following tests:
- A barium swallow (esophagram) can detect ulcers or esophageal narrowing. To help structures light up on an X-ray, you first swallow a solution.
- The function and activity of the esophagus and lower esophageal sphincter can be assessed using esophageal manometry.
- pH testing will detect acid in the esophagus. To measure the amount of acid in your esophagus, the doctor sticks a needle into your esophagus and holds it in place for 1 to 2 days.
- A biopsy can be performed during endoscopy to examine tissue samples under a microscope for inflammation or anomalies.
- Endoscopy will detect issues in the esophagus or stomach. A long, translucent, lighted tube with a camera is inserted down your throat for this examination. To begin, the doctor will spray an anesthetic into the back of your throat and administer a sedative to make you more relaxed.
Treating acid reflux with diet and lifestyle changes
Avoiding foods and liquids that cause symptoms is one of the most successful approaches to combat acid reflux disease. Here are few additional steps you can take:
- Eat smaller meals more frequently throughout the day and modify the types of foods you are eating
- Quit smoking
- Put blocks under the head of your bed to raise it at least 4 inches to 6 inches
- Eat at least 2 to 3 hours before lying down
- Try sleeping in a chair for daytime naps
- Don’t wear tight clothes or tight belts
- If you’re overweight or obese, take steps to lose weight with exercise and diet changes
- Also, ask your doctor whether any medication could be triggering your heartburn or other symptoms of acid reflux disease
Treating acid refluxes with medications
In certain cases, dietary modifications along with over-the-counter drugs are all that is needed to control acid reflux disease symptoms. Antacids such as Alka-Seltzer, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, or Riopan will neutralize stomach acid. However, if used excessively, they may induce diarrhea or constipation. Antacids that contain both magnesium hydroxide and aluminum hydroxide are preferable. When used together, they can help to alleviate these gastrointestinal side effects.
If antacids do not work, your doctor will recommend other medicines. Any medications necessitate a prescription. Your doctor may advise you to take more than one type or to try a combination of medications such as these:
- Foaming agents (Gaviscon) coat your stomach to prevent reflux.
- H2 blockers (Pepcid, Tagamet) decrease acid production.
- Proton pump inhibitors (Aciphex, Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, Protonix) also reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes.
- Prokinetics (Reglan, Urecholine) can help strengthen the LES, empty your stomach faster, and reduce acid reflux.
Do not take more than one kind of antacid or other drugs without first seeing the doctor.
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