What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux, also commonly referred to as GERD (gastrointestinal reflux disease) or heartburn, is a gastrointestinal condition that is characterized by a burning sensation behind the breastbone that starts after eating. Acid reflux affects the ring of muscle that sits between the stomach and esophagus and occurs when acid leaks back into the esophagus from the stomach.

More than 60 percent of adults will experience symptoms of acid reflux during any given year and as many as 30 percent of people will have symptoms on a weekly basis.

Causes of acid reflux

Acid reflux develops when acid from the digestion process reflux back into the esophagus and causes symptoms.

There are several things that can trigger heartburn including:

  • Foods and drinks such as alcohol, grapefruits, organs, pineapple, tomatoes, grapefruit and chocolate
  • Medications such as Ibuprofen, Naproxen and aspirin
  • Caffeine
  • Smoking

Risk factors for acid reflux

Several factors can increase your likelihood of developing heartburn including:

  • Eating foods with high amounts spice, citrus, fat or oil
  • Drinking alcohol, carbonated drinks or caffeinated drinks
  • Pregnancy
  • Obesity

Symptoms of acid reflux

The most common symptom of acid reflux is a burning sensation in the chest that is often accompanied by:

  • Burning in the throat
  • Feeling that food is stuck in your throat
  • Sour taste in the throat
  • Chronic cough
  • Pain in the upper abdomen
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Hoarseness

Diagnosis of acid reflux

Acid reflux can be diagnosed by your primary care doctor during a physical exam. If have reoccurring heartburn, it is important to consult a physician to ensure you receive effective treatment. If left untreated, acid reflux can lead to esophageal bleeding, ulcers, chronic scarring and sometimes a more serious condition called Barrett’s esophagus.

During the exam, your doctor will take a full medical history and ask you to share what foods contribute to your symptoms. If your doctor is uncertain if you have other GI issues, he or she may also order tests including:

  • X-ray — takes images of the digestive system to determine cause of symptoms
  • Endoscopy — will allow your doctor to evaluate your esophagus for damage and determine the reasons for your symptoms
  • Ambulatory pH testing &mdahs; measures the acidity in the esophagus

Treatment for acid reflux

Most patients can relieve their symptoms of acid reflux with lifestyle modifications and medications. Rarely, surgery is needed to correct the problem. 

Lifestyle modifications you can make to relieve your symptoms include:

  • Quit smoking — smoking interferes with the function of the lower esophageal sphincter, the muscle that sits between the stomach and esophagus.
  • Avoid food triggers that causes symptoms of acid reflux.
  • Elevate your head when sleeping.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight — extra weight puts more strain on the stomach, which can increase the likelihood of developing acid reflux.

There are a variety of over-the-counter that can help relieve the symptoms of acid reflux, such as famotidine or calcium carbonates. If these option don’t help, talk to your doctor about prescription-strength medication.

In severe cases of acid reflux, surgery may be necessary. Laparoscopic surgical procedures are used as a last resort option, only when all other treatments have failed.

There are a few surgical options for acid reflux, but the most common ones are:

  • Fundoplication — your surgeon will try to tighten the lower esophageal sphincter by wrapping the top of the stomach around it.
  • Linx device — implanted in a minimally invasive procedure with the hopes of tightening the lower esophageal sphincter with a ring of magnetic beads to reduce acid reflux.

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