Acid reflux, that burning feeling of indigestion in your chest and stomach, is a very common condition affecting up to 30% of the population every week. It’s the most common stomach-related complaint seen by emergency departments in the U.S. Acid reflux is also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), or just plain old heartburn, and it can become chronic, causing all kinds of long-term health effects. 

For some people, acid reflux can be controlled with a few lifestyle changes. Others require medications and, in some cases, even surgery to control the more chronic forms of the disease.

Whether you have short bouts or a more chronic form of acid reflux, you’re probably familiar with the uncomfortable symptoms. However, you may not know the best way to relieve acid reflux, so let’s find out.

What is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is caused by a malfunction of the tube that passes food into your stomach, allowing acid to creep back up toward your throat. It’s that acid that causes the burning sensation in your lower chest known as heartburn. 

When you eat or drink, the food passes into your mouth, travels south through your esophagus (food pipe), and ends up down in your stomach. At the entrance to the stomach is a kind of valve or muscle ring known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). When food travels through this doorway and into the stomach, the LES is supposed to close. When the valve doesn’t close properly the acid from your stomach can migrate upwards causing a burning discomfort in your lower chest. 

Acid reflux can be caused by an abnormality in the stomach called a hiatal hernia. However, there are other more common risk factors associated with an attack of acid reflux.

What Does Acid Reflux Feel Like?

The symptoms and severity of acid reflux vary, but generally, you may experience:

  • A feeling of food caught in your throat
  • Burning pain in the lower chest known as heartburn
  • Chest pain that can be mistaken for a heart attack
  • Coughing
  • Difficult swallowing
  • Hoarseness
  • Regurgitation 
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting

These symptoms can be experienced by anyone of any age—including infants. One way to avoid acid reflux is to also avoid the triggers for the disorder. What are the risks and triggers for acid reflux?

What Triggers Acid Reflux?

The triggers for acid reflux vary by each person experiencing symptoms. Some of the more common behaviors that may put you at risk of developing symptoms include:

  • Drinking alcohol, coffee, or other beverages
  • Eating a big meal and then bending over
  • Eating a big meal and then lying down
  • Eating certain kinds of foods like tomatoes, citrus fruits, onions, and more
  • Exercising too soon after eating
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Snacking near bedtime
  • Taking certain medications

If you’re starting to get the sense that eating, drinking, or just living your life can cause acid reflux, that’s not entirely off base. Heartburn is very common and it can happen to anyone. Ironically, one person’s eating or behavioral habits can trigger acid reflux, while the person next to them can do the same thing and have no symptoms at all.

How Can You Relieve Acid Reflux?

Mother shows child healthy diet that can Relieve Acid RefluxIf you’re experiencing acid reflux once or a few times a month, there are some things you can to do relieve your symptoms such as:

  • Avoiding the foods that seem to trigger the issue
  • Consider meditation and breathing exercises to calm the body
  • Don’t drink carbonated soda or other beverages that cause you to burp, which in turn sends acid into the esophagus
  • Eating more slowly or eating several small meals a day instead of three larger ones
  • Lose weight
  • Move slowly after eating to give your body time to digest
  • Sleep on an incline where your head is six or eight inches above your feet
  • Stay away and upright for a time after eating
  • Stop smoking because doctors think nicotine may relax the LES
  • Talk to your doctor if you’re taking medications that may trigger esophageal irritation

There is some evidence that herbal remedies like ginger can help with vomiting or other symptoms. Herbal tea can help. One older study showed that chewing sugar-free gum (not mint) can increase the frequency of swallowing to help clear the reflux from the esophagus. Even wearing tight clothing around the stomach can put pressure on the area and cause acid reflux. 

There are also dozens of over-the-counter acid reflux remedies, including:

  • Antacids such as Alka-Seltzer, Maalox, Mylanta, Pepto-Bismol, Rolaids, and Tums
  • H2 blockers such as Calmicid, Fluxid, Tagamet HD, and Pepcid AC
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as Losec, Omesec, Prevacid 24HR, and Prilosec OTC 

It’s a good idea to keep a food diary if you’ve been suffering from acid reflux. Tracking which types of foods or behaviors cause a flare-up will help you manage the issue without other interventions. However, if you’re experiencing acid reflux more than twice a week, it’s time to see your doctor.

When Should You See Your Doctor for Acid Reflux?

If you’ve been experiencing heartburn regularly a few times a week, it’s time to see your doctor. It’s estimated that about seven million people in the U.S. experience a chronic acid reflux disease called GERD. Many haven’t been diagnosed by their doctor and attribute their symptoms to something they ate. 

Undiagnosed and untreated GERD can inflame the esophagus and cause all kinds of related issues such as ulcers and even Barrett’s esophagus, which signals the beginning stages of cancer. 

So, when is it time to see your doctor? Use this checklist to monitor your symptoms:

  • Have you experienced heartburn more than once a week for two weeks or longer?
  • Have you used over-the-counter medications and they’re not working?
  • Is heartburn keeping you up at night?
  • Do you have unexplained weight loss or a decrease in appetite?
  • Does it hurt to swallow? 
  • Has your heartburn made you vomit?
  • Are you wheezing or have chronic hoarseness?

The team at Gastroenterology Associates of Southwest Florida, P.A., is highly experienced in helping you relieve acid reflux. Contact us if you’re experiencing symptoms and get the help you need.

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