What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, is a much more serious form of heartburn. It is caused by a malfunction with the body’s lower esophageal sphincter, also known as the LES. A ring of muscle located at the entrance to the stomach, this valve is supposed to shut once food goes past it. When the valve does not close or if it opens up too frequently, then the acid produced by the stomach moves up into the esophagus. While this acid is instrumental in the proper digestion of food, its intrusion into the esophagus is extremely painful. Most notably, it causes a burning sensation in the chest and upper stomach.
Causes of Acid Reflux
Of the many causes of acid reflux, the most common is a hiatal hernia, defined as an abnormality of the stomach. When the upper stomach and the LES move above the diaphragm, which is actually a muscle that separates the chest from the stomach, a hiatal hernia occurs. The diaphragm is instrumental in keeping stomach acid located in the stomach. When it malfunctions, acid is permitted to enter the esophagus, which results in acid reflux.
There are, however, many other causes. People who are overweight or suffer from obesity are frequently victims of acid reflux. What and how a person eats also factors into the disease. Notably, eating large meals, eating late night snacks, or laying down after eating can all cause acid reflex. The types of foods one eats can also contribute. Notably, acid reflux is often caused by citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate, mint, onions, garlic, as well as a variety of hot, spicy, or generally fatty foods. What one drinks can also cause acid reflux. Alcohol, carbonated beverages and sodas, or drinks high in caffeine are common causes. Smoking can cause acid reflux as well, as can using a number of different medicines, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, certain medications for high blood pressure, and some muscle relaxers.
Prevention of Acid Reflux
Preventing acid reflux is relatively easy but does involve certain lifestyle changes. Typically, one should first stay away from the aforementioned foods and drinks that commonly cause acid reflux. Coffee and tea in particular, whether caffeinated or decaffeinated, should be avoided. Eating plenty of proteins has been proven to help acid reflux. Particular, low fat or skim dairy products, poultry, and fish are helpful. Regular exercise can also be very beneficial.
Treatments of Acid Reflux
If someone already has acid reflux, then the aforementioned techniques also work to treat the disease. In the event that these lifestyle changes are not enough, there are a number of medications that can help to effectively treat acid reflux disease. These include H2 blockers that are available over the counter, and proton-pump inhibitors, which are more powerful.