Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide.
It occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back up into the esophagus, causing irritation and discomfort. Understanding the signs, symptoms, causes, and risk factors of acid reflux is important for properly diagnosing and treating this troublesome condition.
What Is Acid Reflux? How It Is Caused?
Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach, relaxes or weakens, and allows stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus.
The LES is meant to prevent reflux and open only when food passes through during swallowing. However, factors like diet, lifestyle habits, and underlying medical conditions can cause the LES to malfunction.
Eating large, fatty, greasy meals and consuming alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, citrus fruits, tomato-based foods, garlic, and onions can all trigger acid reflux symptoms. These foods cause the stomach to produce more acid or relax the LES. Being overweight and smoking also increases pressure in the abdomen, straining the LES.
Certain medications like asthma inhalers, calcium channel blockers, and sedatives can also promote acid reflux.
Medical conditions including hiatal hernia, pregnancy, and delayed stomach emptying can contribute to acid reflux as well. A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm and pushes upwards, causing acid to back up.
The growing fetus during pregnancy puts pressure on the abdomen and stomach, relaxing the LES. Conditions like diabetes that slow digestion allow food to remain in the stomach longer, increasing the risk of acid reflux.
Signs And Symptoms Of Acid Reflux
Common signs and symptoms of acid reflux include:
- Heartburn – A burning discomfort felt behind the breastbone, usually after eating. It can feel sharp, dull, or like pressure in the chest.
- Regurgitation – A bitter or sour taste in the mouth, as stomach acid and sometimes food comes back up into the throat.
- Dyspepsia – Pain and discomfort felt in the upper abdomen, nausea after eating, and feeling overly full after meals.
- Difficulty swallowing – Feeling like food is stuck in the throat or chest, especially when swallowing.
- Chronic sore throat – Persistent sore throat that doesn’t go away even with antibiotics. Caused by irritation from stomach acid.
- Laryngitis – Hoarseness, loss of voice, or raspy, scratchy throat, caused by acid refluxing and irritating the larynx.
- Chronic cough – Persistent cough, often worse at night, triggered by refluxed liquid irritating the windpipe.
- Asthma – Some asthmatic symptoms like coughing and wheezing can be aggravated or even caused by acid reflux. The acid can trigger reflex bronchoconstriction.
- Dental erosion – Stomach acid can wear away at the enamel on teeth over time and promote tooth decay. GERD is a leading cause of dental erosion.
Risk Factors While Having Acid Reflux
Certain factors can increase your risk of experiencing acid reflux. These include:
- Obesity – Excess weight puts pressure on the stomach and abdomen, straining the LES. Losing weight can help relieve symptoms.
- Smoking – Increases acid production and reduces LES pressure. Quitting smoking reduces reflux symptoms.
- Alcohol – irritates the lining of the digestive tract, relaxes the LES, and triggers more acid production.
- Pregnancy – Hormonal changes and a growing fetus cause acid reflux. Symptoms typically resolve after delivery.
- Hiatal hernia – Weakens the LES and allows acid to reflux into the esophagus. Can be managed with medication.
- Certain medications – Asthma medications, sedatives, calcium channel blockers, and others can promote acid reflux. Talk to your doctor.
- Eating large meals – Overeating causes the stomach to be overly full and puts pressure on the LES. Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
- Eating before bed – Lying down too soon after eating allows acid to reflux up. Avoid eating 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Citrus fruits – The high acid content can irritate the esophagus. Avoid citrus and acidic foods if they trigger symptoms.
Home Remedies For Acid Reflux
There are several natural remedies that can help provide relief from acid reflux at home:
- Baking soda – A natural antacid, mixing 1/2 tsp baking soda with water can neutralize stomach acidity and alleviate heartburn.
- Aloe vera juice – Has a soothing, anti-inflammatory effect, taken before meals dilutes stomach acid.
- Apple cider vinegar – Although counterintuitive, the acetic acid can help balance stomach acidity. Mix 1-2 tsp with water before meals.
- Ginger – Has a calming effect on the GI tract. Drinking ginger tea or eating raw ginger can reduce reflux symptoms.
- Licorice root – Soothes irritated tissues in the throat and enhances mucus protection in the esophagus. Chew on licorice root or drink licorice tea.
- Chewing gum – Chewing gum promotes saliva production, which helps neutralize stomach acid. Opt for sugar-free gum.
- Lose weight – Excess weight puts more pressure on the LES. Losing even 5-10 lbs can ease symptoms.
- Don’t smoke – Smoking impairs the LES. Quitting can significantly improve acid reflux.
- Loosen clothing – Wear loose-fitting clothing to avoid putting extra pressure on your stomach after eating.
Precautions And Tips To Get Rid Of Acid Reflux Fast
Here are some useful precautions and tips for preventing and getting rid of acid reflux quickly:
- Elevate your head when sleeping – Place wood blocks under the bed posts to raise your head 6-8 inches. This uses gravity to keep acid down.
- Avoid large meals – Don’t overload your stomach. Eat smaller, more frequent portions to reduce pressure on the LES.
- Wear loose clothing – Tight clothes add pressure on the abdomen. Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing around your stomach.
- Maintain a healthy weight – Excess weight strains the LES. Lose weight gradually through diet and exercise if overweight.
- Identify trigger foods – Track your symptoms to identify problem foods that seem to make your reflux worse, then avoid them.
- Stop smoking – Smoking weakens the LES. Quitting can significantly improve acid reflux symptoms.
- Limit alcohol – Alcohol promotes acid production and irritates the digestive lining. Avoid or limit alcoholic drinks.
- Manage stress – Stress can increase stomach acid production. Practice relaxation techniques and manage stress effectively.
- Don’t lie down after meals – Stay upright for 3 hours after eating to allow your stomach to digest food before lying down.
- Take antacids as needed – Over-the-counter antacids like Tums can quickly neutralize stomach acid and relieve mild reflux.
Acid reflux is a common condition with a variety of uncomfortable digestive symptoms. Understanding the signs, causes, risk factors, and natural remedies allows acid reflux to be properly managed.
Lifestyle and dietary changes can go a long way towards preventing reflux symptoms. However, be sure to see a doctor if symptoms persist or get worse over time. With proper treatment, acid reflux can be controlled to help you feel your best.
Frequently Asked Questions
A: Avoid fatty, fried, spicy, and citrus foods, coffee, alcohol, carbonated beverages, and any known trigger foods. Focus on lean proteins, complex carbs, and non-acidic fruits and vegetables
A: See a doctor if symptoms persist after 2 weeks of home treatment, you have difficulty swallowing, you have persistent sore throat or hoarseness, or you vomit blood or have bloody stools
A: Antacids like Tums, Rolaids, and Maalox neutralize stomach acid quickly. H2 blockers like Pepcid and Zantac reduce acid production. Proton pump inhibitors like Prilosec and Nexium more potently block acid secretion.
A: Yes, stress increases stomach acid production, a key mechanism behind acid reflux. Managing stress with lifestyle changes, therapy, or medication can improve symptoms.
A: Non-citrus fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, whole grains, eggs, lean poultry, plant-based milk, ginger, fennel, licorice root, and chamomile tea can help soothe acid reflux symptoms