Acid Reflux: Causes, Picture, Symptoms and Treatment

Acid Reflux: Causes, Picture, Symptoms and Treatment

Acid reflux is a common condition causing burning pain in the lower chest area. It also leaves a sour taste in your mouth. Left side chest pain can make you scared. But, the burning pain and discomfort, also known as acid indigestion or heartburn do not result in fatal complications with effective management. You experience heartburn when the stomach acid flows back into your food pipe. It can occur due to simple causes. But, frequent heartburn indicates serious problems like GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). Therefore, you need to consult a doctor to get a proper treatment plan to manage the condition and prevent complications.

What Is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux

The problems with the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) can result in acid indigestion. LES is the valve at the entrance of the stomach. It is the ring of muscle that opens for the food to pass and closes immediately. If your LES fails, closes completely, or opens too often, then it can cause the stomach acid to move up the esophagus. The stomach acid can cause a burning sensation in your chest. It is known as heartburn. It is common for people to suffer from acid reflux once in a while. But, experiencing it more than twice a week can result in gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Causes Of Acid Reflux

Why do you experience heartburn or acid indigestion? Hiatal hernia, a common stomach abnormality causes the condition. Due to the problem, the upper part of the stomach and LES tend to move above the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the muscle separating the stomach and chest. In normal cases, the diaphragm keeps the stomach acid in its place. But when you suffer from hiatal hernia, the stomach acid tends to move into the esophagus. So, you can experience the symptoms associated with acid indigestion. The common risk factors associated with the condition are:

  • Excessive weight (overweight or obese)
  • Eating large meals
  • Lying down immediately after your meal
  • Eating a heavy meal and bend over at the waist or lie on your back
  • Snacking before going to sleep
  • Certain foods in your diet (eat citrus fruits, fatty or spicy foods, tomato, garlic, onion or mint)
  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy
  • Drinking alcohol, caffeinated or carbonated drinks
  • Taking pain killers, muscle relaxer or blood pressure medication

Symptoms Of Acid Reflux

When you experience acid reflux, you can observe the following signs:

Heartburn

Heartburn

It is the burning sensation or discomfort in the stomach region. It moves from the stomach to your chest or throat.

Regurgitation

A sour or bitter taste in the mouth due to acid backing into the throat/mouth.

Other Symptoms Of Acid Reflux

You can also experience other signs like:

  • Burping
  • Bloating
  • Hiccups that don’t go away
  • Bloody vomiting
  • Black/bloody stools
  • Nausea
  • Dysphagia (feeling of food stuck in your throat)
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Dry cough/wheezing/chronic sore throat

Diagnosing Acid Reflux Disease

If you observe acid indigestion rarely, then it is not a cause of concern. You can associate the problem with the food you consume or other simple issues. But, you need to see a doctor when you observe reflux signs two or more times a week. It is also necessary to seek assistance from a medical professional when medications fail to offer you lasting relief. In normal cases, you can adopt some home remedies and change your lifestyle. These changes can reduce symptoms like heartburn and offer you relief. Taking over-the-counter antacids also manages the symptoms. But, some people fail to get relief with the methods. In such cases, you need medical assistance. The doctor confirms the diagnosis and performs one or more tests to check for other problems. So, the diagnostic techniques used to detect the problem are:

Barium Swallow

Barium Swallow

A barium swallow is also known as esophagram. It is the test used to check the narrowing of your esophagus or the presence of ulcers. As the name suggests, you need to swallow a solution containing barium. The solution can aid in showing the structures inside your body clearly on the x-ray. Based on the assessment of the x-ray images, your doctor can detect the problems

Esophageal Manometry

It is the test used to measure the motor function of the esophagus. The test can also check the function of your lower esophageal sphincter. For the test, a tube is passed down the throat to your esophagus. The test can detect the abnormalities due to LES function and peristalsis (the wave-like motion transferring from the throat to the stomach).

pH Probe Study

It is the test used to monitor and check your acid levels in the esophagus. During the test, a thin tube or probe is placed in the esophagus. It is left for one or two days to measure the amount and seriousness of the acid juices backing into the esophagus. It offers detailed information on the acid indigestion, which your doctors cannot obtain from other tests.

Endoscopy

Endoscopy

It is an inpatient test to check the esophagus or stomach region for abnormalities. During the test, the doctor inserts a long, thin, and flexible tube down your throat. It is fitted with a camera at the end to check the structures and function of your esophagus. Your doctor sprays the back of the throat with anesthetic to make the procedure more comfortable. Sedation is also given to minimize pain and discomfort. Endoscopy is suggested to check for GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and managing it to prevent esophageal cancer.

Biopsy

If your doctor suspects some serious problem behind the acid indigestion, then a biopsy can shed light on it. During the endoscopy, a sample tissue of the esophagus is extracted for analysis. It is tested in the lab under a microscope to check for infections or other abnormalities.

Based on the diagnosis, your doctor can suggest a treatment plan to manage the condition effectively.

Lifestyle Changes To Combat Acid Reflux

Is it possible to avoid heartburn by changing your lifestyle? Yes, it is possible. You have to make some changes to your diet and lifestyle to get effective results. It is the first line of action suggested by your doctor. Here are some of the steps to manage the condition and prevent it from affecting your life adversely:

Lose Weight

Obesity worsens heartburn. It is because the extra stomach fat puts pressure on the abdominal region. So, it causes the juices in your stomach to push into the esophagus. It makes you prone to frequent acid indigestion. If you are overweight, then you need to lose weight. It will reduce the pressure on your stomach. People with normal weight need to avoid weight gain as it will worsen the condition.

Avoid Foods Causing Reflux

You need to watch what you eat when you suffer from acid indigestion. Certain foods can trigger reflux. So, you need to avoid the following food:

  • Spicy foods
  • Fatty foods
  • Acid fruits and vegetables (citrus fruits and tomatoes)
  • Chocolate
  • Mint
  • Onion
  • Chocolate
  • Caffeinated beverage or coffee
  • Carbonated beverages

Eat Small Portions

Large meals tend to full your stomach and put excess pressure in the LES. Therefore, it can trigger reflux. To avoid the problem, you need to eat smaller meals.

Avoid Lying Down After Eating

You must avoid lying down immediately after eating. In normal cases, gravity keeps acid indigestion from developing. After a meal, you may feel like stretching out for a nap. It is a wrong practice as lying down can defy gravity. So, it makes it easier for the stomach acid to press against Les. It flows back into the esophagus, leading to discomfort.

Elevate The Bed

Elevate The Bed

Elevating the bed can aid in gravity keep acid in your stomach and prevent it from coming up. You have to raise the head of the bed at least six to eight inches to get the desired results. Using pillows can only elevate your head. So, it does not help with acid indigestion. You can use wedge-shaped support while sleeping to elevate the upper body. It will offer you relief from uncomfortable symptoms.

Check Your Medication

Certain medications you take can cause acid reflux. So, you need to review your medications. The drugs can interfere with the digestive process or relaxes the LES. The medications can also irritate your already inflamed esophagus. So, if you are taking the following medication, then maintain caution:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Medications used to treat asthma (for example beta-agonists)
  • Medicine to treat high blood pressure (like calcium channel blockers)
  • Anticholinergics (it is medications prescribed for treating glaucoma and seasonal allergies)
  • Sedatives
  • Painkillers
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Bisphosphonates (the medication used to enhance bone density)
  • Iron tablets
  • Potassium

People taking any of the above-mentioned medications need to talk to their doctor about alternative drugs. You need alternative options, which do not cause problems on the upper digestive tract. So, consult with your doctor to get medications that do not trigger or worsen acid indigestion.

Quit Smoking

Nicotine in the cigarettes relaxes the LES muscles. Smoking can interfere with the function of saliva. So, your saliva loses its ability to clear acid from the esophagus. It puts you at risk of suffering from heartburn.

Avoid Alcohol

Alcohol consumption is not good for your health. It causes your LES to relax. Therefore, excess alcohol consumption results in the spasm of esophageal muscles.

Wear Loose Clothes

Tight clothes or belts can trigger acid indigestion. It is because they tend to constrict the stomach. So, the excess pressure can cause the acid to flow up.

Try Gluten-Free Diet

Try Gluten-Free Diet

Gluten is a protein that contains gliadin. It triggers several negative effects on your body. So, eating gluten can exacerbate reflux. So, try eliminating the following foods from your diet:

  • Wheat
  • Rye
  • Barley

You can try a gluten-free diet to avoid heartburn. Eliminate any food containing gluten to see the difference.

If you experience the symptoms even after trying the above-mentioned tips, then your doctor can prescribe medications. Several medications are available to ease the symptoms of acid indigestion.

Treatment Options For Acid Reflux

When lifestyle and diet changes fail to offer relief. Your doctor suggests other methods to alleviate the condition. It includes the following:

Medications To Treat Acid Reflux

Your doctor can suggest taking the medication to relieve the symptoms of heartburn. You can take over-the-counter medication or prescription medicines to ease the problem. In most cases, your doctor combines the medications along with lifestyle changes to get good results.

Antacids

Your doctor suggests taking over-the-counter antacids. The medication helps neutralize stomach acid. It is available in different forms like chewable tablets, a liquid form, or tablets that dissolve in water. In some people, antacid use can trigger side effects like constipation or diarrhea. It mostly occurs due to overuse of the medications. So, your doctor suggests taking antacids containing aluminum hydroxide and magnesium hydroxide. They can counteract the side effects. People with heart problems need to consult a doctor before using it. Antacids can also interfere with other medications. Therefore, you need to check with your doctor before using it.

Foaming Agent

It is the non-prescription medication used to treat GERD. The foaming agent covers your stomach with a thick layer of foam. So, it prevents the stomach content from entering the esophagus. It helps avoid acid indigestion. Alginic acid (Gaviscon) is one of the popular foaming agents used to manage the symptoms.

H2 Blockers

Histamine 2 blockers or H2 blockers target the substance called histamine. So, it results in decreased production of stomach acid. You can experience relief from the symptoms associated with the condition by taking over-the-counter medication. The following medicines are commonly used for decreasing stomach acid production:

  • Zantac
  • Pepcid
  • Tagamet

Proton Pump Inhibitors

It is the most popular medication prescribed by the doctor for lasting relief. The group of medications reduces stomach acid production. It is also used for preventing and reducing the symptoms caused by acid-related conditions.

Prokinetics

It is prescribed by the doctor only for serious cases of acid reflux. The medication strengthens your LES (lower esophageal sphincter). So, it triggers the swift emptying of the contents of the stomach. It allows only a small period for the acid ingestion to develop. The medication is often suggested for children with severe constipation or impaired bowel emptying that does not respond to other treatment options. It is so suggested for patients with insulin-dependent diabetes.

Surgery And Other Procedures

Surgery is not the first option for treating acid indigestion. Your doctor adopts different methods like changes in lifestyle, diet, non-prescription medications, and prescription drugs to manage the problem. If you find no improvement in your symptoms, then surgery becomes the last option. So, when all methods fail, your doctor suggests surgery to alleviate the condition. In most of the people, lifestyle changes and medication work well. But, some people do not get the desired results. Therefore, surgical options are provided. It is also suggested for people who wish to avoid long-term use of medications:

Fundoplication

It is one of the common procedures used to treat acid indigestion and GERD. Several types of procedures are possible. It is done laparoscopically with minimal incisions. During the procedure, the surgeon tightens the muscle in the lower esophageal sphincter by wrapping the top part of the stomach. Based on your condition, your surgeon opts for partial or complete wrapping of the top part of the stomach. Therefore, the different types available are:

  • Nissen 360-degree wrap
  • Toupet 270-degree posterior wrap
  • Watson anterior 180-degree wrap

LINX Device

It is different from the standard surgical procedure used to treat GERD. The minimally invasive procedure uses a ring or bracelet of magnetic titanium beads to surround the LES (Lower Esophageal Sphincter). The strong attraction between the magnetic beads compresses the LES junction closed. So, it prevents the refluxing acid from the stomach to enter the esophagus. But, it allows the foods to pass through it easily as the bracelet or ring is strung with titanium wire. So, the force of swallowing causes the flexible ring to allow food to pass.

Home Remedies For Acid Reflux

If you wish to get relief from acid indigestion, then you can try some remedies at home. The simple yet effective remedies can offer you relief. So, you can try the following steps:

Eat Fruits

You need to include fruits with natural antacid properties to counteract acid indigestion. Banana is a good choice. So, you can eat a fully ripened banana every day to reduce the discomfort triggered due to the acid coming back up. Eating apple not just offers relief from the condition but also offers several other health benefits. You need to eat an apple before bedtime to prevent the discomfort at night. Other fruits with similar quality are:

  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Honeydew

While these fruits offer great benefits, you need to stay away from fruits with high acid content. So, try not to consume the following fruits:

  • Pineapple
  • Grapefruit
  • Oranges

These fruits only make the condition worse.

Ginger Tea

Ginger is an effective remedy for several stomach ailments. You can drink ginger juice to cure stomach aches, chronic acid reflux or nausea. Make ginger tea by simmering the slices of ginger root for half an hour in water. Drink the tea before your meal to get maximum benefits. It is an effective home remedy to alleviate acid indigestion.

Mustard

Mustard is a good remedy to alleviate acid indigestion. It contains minerals and vinegar. Mustard also has alkaline properties. So, it neutralizes the acid coming back up. When you feel heartburn coming, you have to take one teaspoon of mustard. Take it when you already experience the signs to heal the discomfort.

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea can balance the acidity levels in your stomach. You need to drink a cup of chamomile tea at least an hour before you go to sleep. Chamomile is highly effective in reducing stress. Stress can contribute to acid indigestion. You can make fresh tea by boiling chamomile petals in water. People with a busy schedule find it difficult to make fresh tea. Do not worry about making chamomile tea from scratch as you can access instant chamomile tea online. Add honey or lemon as per your taste.

Conclusion

Occasional acid reflux is not a serious issue. You can manage it at home with over-the-counter medications or simple remedies. But, when you suffer from frequent heartburn, it needs medical attention. Without treatment, chronic acid indigestion can trigger other serious conditions. It puts you at risk of developing esophageal cancer, which can lead to death. Therefore, you need to take steps to deal with the condition and prevent complications.

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