Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), happens when the acid from your stomach backflows into your esophagus and causes heartburn and other issues such as asthma, and chest pain, trouble swallowing, and cough. This can happen when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) doesn’t close properly. It can also be triggered by certain foods and drinks like alcohol or caffeine, obesity, hormonal changes during menopause, or taking certain medications like antihistamines or steroids.
What is acid reflux?
If stomach acid seeps up from the stomach and into the esophagus, this is known as acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The esophagus is a tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. Normally, muscle contractions in your esophagus keep stomach acid contained, but sometimes these contractions are not strong enough and acid flows upward into the esophagus. This can cause various symptoms such as chest pain and heartburn.
This happens when acid climbs back up into your esophagus, which is also known as acid reflux, acid regurgitation, or gastroesophageal reflux.
If you experience more than just occasional acid reflux symptoms that occur more than twice a week, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease.
What are some of the possible triggers?
What may cause acid reflux? Certain triggers include eating a big meal, lying down after eating, stress or anxiety, or drinking alcohol. Some medications can also trigger acid reflux or make it worse. Tobacco use is also a risk factor for developing heartburn.
And even though GERD does not have one single cause, there are certain lifestyle choices and health factors that are more likely to result in GERD diagnoses. These include
- living with obesity
- being pregnant
- living with a connective tissue disorder
- frequently eating large meals
- consistently lying down or going to sleep shortly after eating
- eating a lot of certain types of foods, like deep-fried or tomato products
- drinking certain types of beverages, like soda, coffee, or alcohol
- using an abundance of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like aspirin or ibuprofen
There are foods and beverages that trigger the symptoms of GERD for some people who’ve been diagnosed with it. These triggers are typically personal, but some are regularly mentioned as having a more significant effect than others. These include
- high-fat foods (like fried foods and fast foods)
- citrus fruits and juices
- tomatos and tomato sauces
Acid reflux is a frequent and painful symptom of GERD. When it strikes, acid and other substances may come up from the stomach and the painful, burning sensation may start in the chest and spread up into the neck and throat. Commonly known as heartburn, this feeling can have a number of causes.\
When you have acid reflux, you might experience the taste of acid in the back of your mouth. This could also result in the regurgitation of food or liquid from your stomach into your mouth.
Some other symptoms of GERD include:
- chest pain
- pain when swallowing
- difficulty swallowing
- chronic cough
- a hoarse voice
- bad breath
GERD treatment options
There are several options for treating GERD. One of these is a change in diet—cutting out dairy products or fatty foods. Another is to take antacids that neutralize stomach acid or chewable antacids designed for pain relief. However, not all heartburn medications are created equal; you should always consult your doctor about which kind to take if you think it’s necessary.
Here are some tips for managing and reducing GERD symptoms that your doctor might suggest you implement
- maintaining a moderate weight, if applicable
- quitting smoking, if you smoke
- avoiding big, heavy meals in the evening
- waiting a few hours after eating to lie down
- elevating your head during sleep (by raising the head of your bed 6-8 inches)
Surgical treatment for GERD
Normally, lifestyle changes and medications are enough to stop or alleviate the symptoms of GERD. Occasionally, surgery is necessary.
An example is that if you make lifestyle changes and are still experiencing GERD symptoms, or if GERD has caused complications, your doctor might recommend surgery.
In cases of gastroesophageal reflux disease, surgery may be the best treatment for one of many different types, such as a fundoplication (during which the top of your stomach is sewn around your esophagus) or bariatric surgery (usually recommended when a doctor has concluded that your GERD may be exacerbated by too much excess weight).
Switching your lifestyle
Before you can effectively treat acid reflux, you need to understand what caused it in the first place. The number one cause of acid reflux is being overweight. If your body mass index (BMI) exceeds 25, that indicates that you are overweight. Excess weight puts pressure on your stomach and keeps it from emptying completely when you eat.
This inhibits gastric juices from flowing properly into your small intestine where they are needed for digestion; instead they flow back up into your esophagus. Acid reflux occurs when those acidic fluids hit against sensitive lining in your esophagus; those acids then irritate that lining causing pain, inflammation and other issues like difficulty swallowing or breathing problems.
Lifestyle interventions with medications
Some of the options you and your doctor might talk about are over-the-counter medications such as those listed below. As with any medication, they all come with side effects, so be sure to talk to your doctor about the best one for you.
Acids for the stomach
Typical antacids like Tums are for occasional, and for less severe, symptoms of acid reflux and GERD. But if you find that you’re taking antacids almost every day, you may need a stronger medication.
Water h2 receptor blockers
The H2 blockers like Pepcid AC lower the amount of acid your stomach makes. There are many H2 blockers that can be purchased over the counter, while stronger doses can also be prescribed.
It is also important to know that Ranitidine (Zantac) has been recalled for having N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), which is a known carcinogen.
Inhibitors of H+ secretion
A medication like Prilosec lowers the acid in your stomach. It works better than H2 blockers and it helps the esophageal lining (which can be damaged if you have GERD for a long time).
You can get some over-the-counter H2 blockers or you can talk to your doctor about getting a prescription for a higher dose.