Acid reflux is a common occurrence that can affect many individuals sporadically, often triggered by specific food, beverages, and lifestyle choices. Recognizable symptoms of acid reflux include a burning sensation in the middle of the chest (known as heartburn) and an unpleasant taste in the mouth. Additional indicators encompass bloating, bad breath, recurring hiccups, and a sensation of nausea. Generally, acid reflux is a minor issue that doesn’t require immediate concern. However, if you experience symptoms more than twice a week, it could indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which may warrant further attention and management.
What causes acid reflux?
At the entrance of the stomach, there exists a small ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Its primary function is to swiftly close after food passes through it. However, individuals experiencing acid reflux face issues with the LES, as it either fails to close completely or opens too frequently. Consequently, stomach acid is able to flow back into the esophagus.
When the stomach valve is not fully closed, the acidic contents of the stomach ascend into the esophagus, leading to the characteristic chest pain and sour taste associated with acid reflux. This explains why acid reflux symptoms tend to worsen while lying down or bending over, as gravity assists in facilitating the movement of stomach acid into the esophagus.
While the primary cause of acid reflux is the incomplete closure of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), there are various factors that can trigger symptoms, and these triggers can vary from person to person. Among the common triggers, food and drink stand out as the main culprits since they can prompt the opening of the stomach valve. Spicy foods, fatty foods, high-salt foods, and low-fiber foods are particularly prone to causing acid reflux. Additionally, beverages such as caffeine, alcohol, acidic drinks, and carbonated beverages (like juice or soda) can also contribute to symptoms.
Furthermore, the manner in which you consume food and drink can influence acid reflux. Eating large meals, snacking close to bedtime, or assuming a bent-over or lying position after eating can exacerbate the condition.
However, acid reflux is not solely influenced by food and drink choices. It is also connected to various lifestyle factors. Individuals who are overweight, pregnant, or smokers may experience symptoms more frequently. Additionally, certain medications like painkillers and muscle relaxers can contribute to acid reflux occurrences.
How to treat heartburn and acid reflux
While acid reflux is generally not a severe condition, it can cause discomfort and significantly impact your enjoyment of various activities due to its association with specific food and drink choices. As a result, symptoms can occur frequently, interfering with your overall well-being.
Fortunately, there are several effective treatments available for acid reflux, both over the counter and by prescription. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) are widely utilized medications that work by reducing the production of stomach acid. Examples of popular PPIs include omeprazole, lansoprazole, esomeprazole, and pantoprazole.
Another category of medications, known as H2 blockers, functions in a similar manner. They inhibit the chemical reactions in the cells responsible for producing stomach acid, thereby decreasing acid production. Ranitidine is a commonly used medication falling into the H2 blocker category. It is available both by prescription and over the counter, often found as the main ingredient in products like Zantac Relief.
In addition to the availability of various over-the-counter treatments, such as antacids, there are effective ways to alleviate acid reflux symptoms. Antacids work by neutralizing stomach acid, preventing it from causing the usual pain and discomfort if it reaches the esophagus.
Alongside medication options, there are self-care measures you can take to help alleviate symptoms. It is recommended to consume smaller meals and avoid foods or drinks that you have identified as triggers for your symptoms. Additionally, refrain from eating within 3 or 4 hours of bedtime, and consider elevating the upper portion of your bed to ensure downloading plugins for your chest and head are at a higher level than your waist. Placing an object under the bed or mattress at the head end can accomplish this.
If you diligently follow these practices and still experience persistent acid reflux symptoms, it is advisable to consult your GP or another medical professional to investigate any potential underlying causes.
What is Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) arises when stomach acid frequently flows back into the esophagus, resulting in irritation of its lining. While occasional acid reflux is common, persistent occurrences can lead to the development of GERD.
Fortunately, the discomfort associated with GERD can often be managed through lifestyle adjustments and medications. In rare cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to alleviate symptoms.