General Health

Causes and Treatments for Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is made up of an uncomfortable combination of heartburn and acid indigestion (or pyrosis). It causes acidic stomach contents to regurgitate back up into the esophagus, resulting in burning pain in the heart area, often following meals or during sleep.

Also commonly referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a digestive disorder that affects the function of the lower esophageal sphincter (or LES), which is the ring of muscle between the esophagus and stomach that controls the downflow of food. In most individuals, the LES opens allowing food to pass into the stomach, shutting immediately and preventing regurgitation. However, in those with GERD, food and acidic stomach juices flow back up into the esophagus due to a relaxed or too weak LES. While many populations suffer from GERD, the condition often strikes overweight or obese individuals, pregnant women, and older individuals with hiatal hernia. Treatment for acid reflux may include the following:

1. Dietary changes
Doctors may recommend avoiding foods and beverages that are known to weaken the LES and cause regurgitation of food and stomach acids, such as fatty foods, citrus, tomatoes, spicy foods, alcohol, and chocolate.

2. Quitting smoking
Smoking cigarettes or pipe tobacco is linked to LES deterioration, which means quitting smoking is imperative for reducing acid reflux symptoms.

3. Medications
Over-the-counter or prescription treatments, such as antacids with foaming agents, may be recommended to neutralize stomach acid in the esophagus and provide a barrier over the stomach to prevent regurgitation and heartburn. If these aren’t effective, chronic reflux sufferers may benefit from H2 blockers (i.e., Pepcid, Axid, Zantac) which lower acid secretions in the stomach. Proton pump inhibitors (or an acid pump) may also be an option to stop acid-producing enzymes from producing excess acid secretions in the stomach.

4. Eating smaller meals
Overeating will often lead to worsening GERD symptoms, so doctors often recommend eating smaller portions, and avoiding eating before bedtime to help control acid reflux symptoms.

5. Surgery
In rare occasions, patients may not respond to traditional GERD remedies. Surgery is a rare option for patients with severe reflux. Options may include endoscopic procedures to scar the LES so it functions better or fundoplication, a surgery that creates more pressure in the lower esophagus to promote better food digestion and less regurgitation.

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