You know the uncomfortable feeling. It’s that burning fizzle in your chest and bitter taste in your throat. What is that? It could be acid reflux.
Acid reflux is a digestive disorder. It happens when stomach contents leak and flow into the esophagus. Stomach acid irritates the esophageal lining, causing discomfort. Reflux may be related to what, how much, and when you eat. Individuals who experience acid reflux more than twice a week could have a more serious condition.
If you have signs of acid reflux, you’ve probably wondered why you have it and what you can do about it. In this post, we want to help you better understand acid reflux symptoms, the causes, and how to reduce your symptoms. We’ll also tell you when to consider the possibility of something more serious going on. If you’re ready to know more, let’s get started.
What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux is a common condition. It regularly affects one in five Americans. Half of all adults will experience it during their lives. To understand how acid reflux works and why it happens so frequently, we need a good grasp of anatomy and physiology. Let’s start with a quick review on digestion.
When you eat, food passes from your mouth to your stomach through the esophagus, or “food pipe.” Where the esophagus and stomach connect, there is a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES. As food goes into your stomach pouch, the LES closes to keep the food inside.
Your stomach produces enzymes, including strong acids, to break down food and kill food borne bacteria. The stomach is a strong muscular organ lined with a thick protective mucous layer that is not harmed by the acids. But stomach acids are corrosive to tissues in your esophagus, throat, and mouth.
When stomach acid escapes through the LES and flows back into the esophagus, it hurts! This sensation is called heartburn. It most often feels like burning or pressure behind the breastbone or in the upper abdomen.
This reflux, or backflow of acid, can also cause other symptoms too.
Symptoms of Acid Reflux
Symptoms of reflux vary from person to person. Most people suffering from acid reflux describe two classic symptoms.
- The first is heartburn, caused by acid backing up into the esophagus.
- The second is regurgitation, when stomach contents flow up into the throat or mouth. The result is a bitter or sour taste in the back of your throat.
Other uncommon symptoms of acid reflux disease include:
- Trouble swallowing
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Stomach pain
Acid reflux symptoms vary from mild to severe. If you are having symptoms of a digestive condition, your medical or health professional can recommend diagnostic tests or treatment to determine the cause of your symptoms.
Causes of Acid Reflux
When you know what causes your acid reflux, you can take steps to prevent flare-ups.
Sometimes, reflux is related to something you ate. Foods and drinks that commonly trigger reflux include:
- Coffee: Caffeine decreases pressure in the LES, which causes it to relax.
- Citrus fruits and juices: Oranges, lemons, and pineapples have high acid content. Acid from food combined with stomach acid creates excess acid in the stomach that may escape.
- Tomatoes: Salsa, pasta sauce, pizza, and other dishes with tomato products are very acidic.
- Carbonated beverages: Fizzy bubbles expand the stomach and may force stomach acid or other contents through the LES.
- Chocolate: Cocoa contains a chemical called methylxanthine, which relaxes the LES.
- Garlic or onions: Raw onions are especially acidic. Some studies suggest garlic and onions cause relaxation of the LES.
- Peppermint: This herb increases stomach acid production.
- Fried or greasy foods: Fatty foods (fried in oil) take longer to digest. They stay in the stomach longer, increasing the risk of reflux.
Limiting or avoiding these foods can help prevent reflux.
Positioning can also contribute to reflux. If you lie down too soon after a meal, you could experience reflux. Overeating or eating within two hours of your bedtime can also put you at risk. Pregnant women experience heartburn because the uterus exerts pressure on the stomach and pushes it upwards as the baby grows.
Smoking is also a risk factor for acid reflux. It works against normal digestion in a few ways.
- Impairs throat muscle reflexes.
- Increases acid secretion.
- Decreases LES function.
- Reduces salivation (saliva neutralizes acid).
Sometimes, reflux happens because of a stomach abnormality. A hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm. It causes dysfunction of the LES and may require intervention.
Complications of Acid Reflux
As mentioned, heartburn and acid reflux are fairly common issues. However, if you experience reflux more than twice a week, check in with your healthcare provider. If left untreated, reflux can turn into something more serious.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, is a chronic, more serious form of reflux. Over time, GERD may lead to esophagitis, strictures, and bleeding ulcers. Repeated acid exposure damages the esophagus. It can even cause the lining of the esophagus to morph. Cells change and can eventually transform into cancerous cells.
Remedies for Reflux
The good news is, there are ways to ease mild reflux symptoms on your own.
Drink more water. Swap caffeinated or acidic beverages for water. It has a neutral pH (7), which is much better for your digestive system and body.
Try oatmeal. Oatmeal is a high-fiber food that will fill you up and absorb excess stomach acid.
Give ginger a try. Ginger has strong anti-inflammatory properties. So if your digestive tract is inflamed, try grating fresh ginger into a tea ½–1 hour after meals.
Target the source with supplements. If you suffer from reflux and want to promote your overall digestive health, check out the best supplements to add to your regimen.
Here are a few more to try.
- Avoid trigger foods.
- Eat smaller meals. If you are still hungry, eat more frequently.
- Avoid eating at least 2 hours before laying down.
- Elevate your head and chest with pillows when lying down.
- Quit smoking and maintain healthy body weight.
With a few tweaks to your routine and diet, you can calm acid reflux and maybe even put an end to it. However, if you try these tips and still struggle with that gnawing burn after meals or at bedtime, it’s time to get help. Talk with a qualified medical or health professional about your reflux to prevent long-term problems.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of acid reflux and its causes. Take the practical solutions we’ve shared to improve your health and wellness. If you found this information helpful, share Acid Reflux Warrior with someone who could benefit.
This article is meant for informational purposes only. If you suffer from frequent heartburn, acid reflux, or GERD, check with a qualified medical or health professional to assess your unique GI problems and help you treat your symptoms.
“Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)”. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed May 31, 2022.
“Heartburn and GERD: Overview”. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed May 31, 2022.
“Hiatal hernia”. mountsinai.org. Accessed May 31, 2022.
“Hiatal hernia, lower esophageal sphincter incompetence”. pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed May 31, 2022.
“Regurgitation in Patients with GERD”. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Accessed May 31, 2022.
“What is basically wrong with the LES in reflux disease?”. oeso.org. Accessed May 31, 2022.