What Is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is a common digestive problem in the US. Understanding what foods cause stomach acid production can help reduce digestive problems and improve overall health. Read this to learn everything you need to know about acid reflux and your health.

8 minute read

Last Updated June 24, 2020

Acid Reflux Remedy - Digestion - 1MD

Acid reflux is a common condition where stomach acid backs up into your esophagus. The Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) is a muscular ring designed to prevent this, but it can become weak or damaged and allow the acid to flow back through. 

The delicate tissues of your esophagus are easily damaged by stomach acid. The acid flowing backward from the stomach causes symptoms and irritations, the most common of which is heartburn.

What Causes Acid Reflux?

The most common cause of acid reflux is a hiatal hernia. This is an abnormality in your stomach where the LES moves above the diaphragm. Ac diaphragm‘s job is to keep acid from entering the esophagus, but with a hiatal hernia, acid can flow through the LES. 

Other common risk factors for acid reflux are:

♦ Eating large meals
♦ Lying down after a meal
♦ Being overweight
♦ Smoking
♦ Snacking close to bedtime

Acid Reflux Symptoms

Symptoms will depend on what organs are affected by stomach acid, and they also vary for each person. Symptoms mostly occur after eating a large meal, when lying down or bending over, and after a spicy meal. 

Heartburn: This is the most common symptom of acid reflux. The stomach acid burns the tissues in your esophagus, which causes a burning sensation in your chest. The burning sensation varies in severity depending on how long the acid stays in the esophagus.

Regurgitation: This is the feeling of food or water coming up your throat, and in some cases, you may vomit. 

Dyspepsia: This is a burning sensation in the upper middle part of your stomach, and the pain can be intermittent. Dyspepsia causes bloating, nausea, frequent burping, and feeling overly full.

Dysphagia: Difficulty or painful swallowing can occur and affects one out of 25 adults with acid reflux.

Sore throat: This is caused by the irritation to the sensitive lining of your throat by harsh stomach acid. You may also get a hoarse voice or feel like you have a lump in your throat.

Some symptoms need to be taken more seriously, and if you experience any of these, you need to seek medical attention immediately:

Heartburn that is worse than normal
♦ Severe chest pain
♦ Squeezing or tightening sensation in your chest
♦ Shortness of breath

Acid Reflux Diagnosis

If you notice acid reflux symptoms more than two times per week, you need to speak with your doctor. The presence of heartburn is a key factor in diagnosing acid reflux, but other tests can be used to confirm this.

♦ Barium swallow to check for narrowing of the esophagus or ulcers
♦ Endoscopy to examine your esophagus and stomach
♦ Esophageal manometry to evaluate the function of the esophagus and LES
♦ pH monitoring to identify the levels of acid present in your throat

Treatment for Acid Reflux

Antacids can be taken to help neutralize the stomach acid and prevent it from burning your esophagus. The best antacids to use are those that contain both magnesium hydroxide and aluminum hydroxide, as they effectively neutralize acid without causing any other gastrointestinal side effects. Other medications or acid reflux remedies that your doctor may prescribe if antacids are not working include:

♦ Proton pump inhibitors to reduce the amount of stomach acid produced
♦ H2 blockers to decrease acid production
♦ Foaming agents to coat your stomach and prevent reflux
♦ Prokinetics to strengthen your LES and empty your stomach faster

Acid Reflux Diet

The cause of acid reflux is problems with your LES, but the food you eat can make the reflux worse or reduce it. By changing your diet to reduce acid reflux, you can prevent the condition from getting worse (GERD) and can protect your esophagus from serious damage.

The top foods that will reduce your acid reflux symptoms are:

Vegetables: Being low in fat and sugar naturally prevents excess stomach acid production

Oatmeal: Oats have the ability to absorb stomach acid, which will reduce reflux and symptoms.

Non-citrus fruits: Citrus fruits can trigger acid reflux, so stick with fruits like bananas, apples, pears, and melons.

Lean meats: Poultry and seafood that are low in fat can reduce reflux symptoms

Egg whites: The yolks are not a good idea, but egg whites do not contain fat, so they will not spike reflux symptoms.

The foods you want to avoid are those that are high in fat or sugar, spicy foods, and fried foods.

You also want to avoid alcohol, caffeinated drinks, mint, citrus fruit, and juices, and any foods you have a known intolerance for.

Natural Treatments for Acid Reflux

Dietary changes are the most effective way to alleviate and prevent acid reflux symptoms. Since certain foods can trigger excess acid, avoiding these will help improve the condition. In addition to this, you can also try these popular home remedies for acid reflux:

♦ Eating smaller meals more frequently
♦ Quit smoking
♦ Don’t wear tight clothes or a belt
♦ Raise your head at bedtime at least 4 to 6 inches
♦ Eat at least 2 or 3 hours before bed
♦ Lose weight if you are overweight

Acid Reflux Surgery

If medications and lifestyle changes are not easing or alleviating symptoms, and your quality of life is significantly impaired, doctors may prescribe surgery. 

The most commonly used surgical procedure is known as the LINX system, which a device placed around the lower end of your esophagus. This helps to prevent stomach acid from going back into the esophagus. You can also get a fundoplication, which creates an artificial valve at the top of your stomach to prevent reflux.

Acid Reflux Statistics

♦ An average of $5.6 billion is spent annually on antacid medications.
♦ 20 percent of the American population regularly experiences acid reflux and heartburn.
♦ The highest percentage of antacid medication purchases can be seen by those between the ages of 31 and 40.
♦ 51 percent of the population currently uses antacids to treat their acid reflux.

Acid Reflux and Children

Some reflux is natural with babies and infants, but as children get older, they can develop acid reflux and heartburn. This is especially likely in children that are overweight and eat high-fat diets. In most cases, children will outgrow this reflux, and diet changes can help significantly. 

It is important to treat the reflux immediately to prevent damage or the development of GERD. Once your child has GERD, more serious health complications can occur in both their digestive and respiratory symptoms.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

Acid reflux on its own is not dangerous, but if left untreated it can develop into GERD and cause damage to the esophagus. Dietary and lifestyle changes, as well as medications, can effectively treat acid reflux symptoms. With time, acid reflux can even go away, so long as no permanent damage was caused. 

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