For many food enthusiasts, there is nothing better than a hot, spicy meal of food, drenched in sauce and mixed with peppers—but there’s also nothing worse than the pain and discomfort that follows. For those living with acid reflux, post-meal bliss can quickly turn into a burning, painful sensation that no amount of cold water can quench. If heartburn is frequently heating your chest, read on to review common symptoms, learn what may be causing your flare-ups, and understand your treatment options.
What is Acid Reflux?
Also known as acid indigestion or pyrosis, acid reflux is a common condition marked by a burning pain that appears in the lower chest area. The pain occurs when stomach acid flows back up into the food pipe. This misdirection of acid occurs when a valve that exists at the entrance to the stomach—the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) does not close all the way when food is moving into the stomach. If the LES remains partially open, stomach acid can travel up through the esophagus.
When an individual experiences acid reflux more than twice per week, the condition is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
What are the Symptoms of Acid Reflux?
The most common symptom of acid reflux is a painful burning sensation that resonates from your stomach, up through the chest and into the throat. Other symptoms of acid reflux may include:
- A bitter or sour acid material that backs up into your throat or mouth, known as regurgitation
- Incessant hiccups
- Bloody vomit
- Bloody or black stool
- Unexplained weight loss
- Wheezing, dry cough, hoarseness, or chronic sore throat
How Common is Acid Reflux?
The American College of Gastroenterology reports that over 60 million Americans experience heartburn at least once per month, and 15 million Americans experience it daily. Acid reflux is the most common gut-related medical complaint treated by U.S. hospitals, as the related chest pain is often so severe that patients misconstrue it as a sign of a heart attack.
What Causes Acid Reflux?
Lifestyle choices, such as diet, obesity, and smoking, are the most common causes of acid reflux. Acid reflux may also be caused by such factors as:
- A hiatal hernia, a stomach abnormality in which the upper part of the stomach and LES move above the diaphragm, allowing stomach acid to move up the esophagus
- Eating large meals
- Laying down or bending over immediately after a meal
- Eating certain foods, including onions, garlic, mint, chocolate, tomato, citrus, and foods high in fat, or drinking such beverages as coffee, tea, alcohol, or carbonated drinks
- Some medications, including ibuprofen, aspirin, and some muscle relaxers and blood pressure medications
Treatment Options for Acid Reflux and GERD
For occasional heartburn, lifestyle choices, such as quitting smoking or reducing your consumption of spicy, irritating foods, may reduce the frequency with which you experience heartburn. Chronic heartburn, however, can lead to severe complications, such as an inflammation of the esophagus, known as esophagitis, which can further cause bleeding, ulcers, and chronic scarring that narrows the esophagus, eventually making it difficult to swallow.
If you are suffering from heartburn pain regularly, talk to your doctor. He or she may diagnose you as experiencing GERD and may recommend, in addition to lifestyle changes, and over-the-counter prescription medication, such as antacids that neutralize stomach acid. In more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe an H-2-receptor blocker medication that reduces acid production, or a drug that both blocks acid production and heals the esophagus— known as a proton pump inhibitor.
If your heartburn symptoms are frequent and disruptive, make an appointment with one of our Nova Health compassionate care providers today.