Reflux Disease


While occasional heartburn is no cause for concern, frequent heartburn could be a sign of reflux disease – and a sign that you should see your doctor.

Causes

When you eat, food passes through the esophagus from the throat to the stomach, where a ring of muscle fibers, the sphincter, prevents food from moving back into the esophagus. If this sphincter muscle doesn’t close well, food, liquid and stomach acid can leak back into the esophagus.

Risk Factors

  • Hiatal hernia
  • Pregnancy
  • Scleroderma
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Use of certain medications

Symptoms

  • Heartburn or burning pain in chest that is relieved by antacids
  • Sensation that food is trapped behind the breastbone
  • Nausea after eating
  • Pain that is more likely/worse at night or when lying down

Diagnostic Tests

If your symptoms are severe or return after treatment, one or more tests may help diagnose reflux or any complications:

  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) to examine the esophagus for damage
  • Barium swallow
  • Continuous esophageal pH monitoring
  • Esophageal manometry
  • A positive stool occult blood test to check for bleeding

Treatment

Implementing the following lifestyle changes may help alleviate symptoms:

  • Avoid foods and beverages that may trigger symptoms, such as alcohol, caffeine, acidic fruits/vegetables, spicy or fatty foods, full-fat dairy products, etc
  • Avoid bending over or exercising just after eating
  • Avoid garments or belts that fit tightly around your waist
  • Do not lie down with a full stomach
  • Do not smoke
  • Eat smaller meals
  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Reduce stress
  • Sleep with your head raised about 6 inches. Do this by tilting your entire bed, or by using a wedge under your body, not just with normal pillows
  • Take over-the-counter antacids after meals and at bedtime

Over-the-counter and prescription medication can also be used to treat reflux. They work slower but provide longer-lasting relief than antacids.

  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) such as omeprazole (Prilosec) and esomeprazole (Nexium)
  • H2 antagonists such as amotidine (Pepsid) and ranitidine (Zantac)
  • Promotility agents such as metoclopramide (Reglan)
  • Anti-reflux operations such as Nissen fundoplication

Common Acid Reflux vs Acid Reflux Disease


Acid reflux is a common condition that affects many Americans. Lifestyle changes can often resolve the issue and keep symptoms at bay. Acid reflux disease, however, is a more serious condition that requires a visit to the gastroenterologist. After learning more about your symptoms, your GI doctor can likely recommend solutions to provide much-needed relief. No matter which condition is causing your discomfort, there is no need to suffer in silence.

How do I know if I have acid reflux disease?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. This frequent backwash often causes painful irritation to the lining of the esophagus.

It is common to experience acid reflux on occasion. Patients with GERD, though, are plagued with mild acid reflux at least a few times a week and moderate/severe acid reflux at least once a week. Lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications may be able to manage symptoms, but some GERD sufferers require stronger medications or even surgery to find relief.

Severe Acid Reflux: When To Visit A Doctor

Our GI specialists recommend seeking immediate medical attention if you are experiencing chest pain, especially if it is accompanied by shortness of breath or jaw or arm pain. These symptoms could be caused by a heart attack.

While you may not require emergency care, we recommend making an appointment with your gastroenterologist if you experience frequent or severe GERD symptoms, or rely on over-the-counter medications to remedy heartburn more than twice a week.

5 Lifestyle Changes To Help Acid Reflux Relief

Simple alterations to your lifestyle may be enough to alleviate symptoms. Consider trying the following to get acid reflux relief:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Cut back on beverages like coffee, tea and soda (no more than 2 cups a day!)
  • Avoid smoking
  • Identify trigger foods and remove them from your diet
  • Exercise (moderate to vigorous physical activity) for at least 30 minutes each day

10 COMMON ACID REFLUX FAQs


Can TUMS help my acid reflux?
Over-the-counter antacids like TUMS can provide temporary relief. Calcium carbonate, the key ingredient, acts quickly to ease symptoms. But if your heartburn continues, schedule an appointment with your gastroenterologist to discuss other treatment options.

Does magnesium relieve acid reflux?
Yes, magnesium is effective in providing temporary relief from acid reflux symptoms. In fact, many antacids combine magnesium with aluminum hydroxide or calcium carbonate to neutralize acid.

Is milk good for acid reflux?
Put simply, it depends. While milk creates a temporary buffer between the stomach lining and stomach acid, the fat in it often aggravates reflux. Nonfat milk is a good option, offering all the benefits without the symptom-triggering fat. Low-fat yogurt is another helpful remedy, offering the same soothing properties plus digestion-aiding probiotics.

Can acid reflux kill you?
No, acid reflux is not a life-threatening condition. Keep in mind, though, that chronic acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can result in serious health complications if left untreated.

What to drink for acid reflux relief?
Our GI specialists recommend the following beverages to soothe acid reflux symptoms:

  • Cold, low-fat milk
  • Fiber-rich, nutrient-packed smoothies
  • Vegetable juice
  • Coconut water
  • Lemon ginger juice
  • Fennel water

Can acid reflux cause nausea?
Yes, nausea is a common symptom of acid reflux. Be sure to avoid these foods that may trigger heartburn and nausea:

  • Spicy foods
  • Tomatoes
  • Red/marinara pasta sauces
  • Caffeinated beverages, including coffee
  • Alcohol
  • Citrus fruits and juices
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Fried, greasy, or fatty foods

Is there a correlation between acid reflux and obstructive sleep apnea?
Yes, studies show that there is a direct link between the two. Obstructive sleep apnea, a condition that causes you to stop breathing while asleep, can cause acid reflux. When you stop breathing, the pressure in your lungs changes, drawing stomach acid into the esophagus. More forceful inhalation after breathing resumes also draws acid into the esophagus.

The reverse can also occur, with acid reflux causing sleep apnea. Reflux, when it occurs at night, may cause throat and vocal cord spasms that block your airway – and ultimately lead to a sleep apnea episode.

Can acid reflux cause shortness of breath?
Yes, severe or chronic acid reflux may result in shortness of breath. In these cases, the throat, lungs and airway may also be damaged. 

Can a chiropractor offer acid reflux relief?
While there is not much research-based evidence to support this, a chiropractor may help to relieve symptoms in some cases. To discuss this potential treatment, schedule an appointment with your GI specialist.

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