If you haven’t experienced acid reflux personally, you have probably heard of it. You’ve also likely heard of heartburn and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). While these terms are used interchangeably by many people, they are not the same.
What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux is caused by the weakening of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a muscular ring located at the entrance of the stomach that opens and closes as food passes to the stomach. When weakened or damaged, the LES will remain open, causing stomach acids and other contents from the stomach to move back up through the esophagus. This is generally accompanied by a burning sensation in the chest and throat, called heartburn.
Heartburn is the most common symptom of acid reflux, but other symptoms may include:
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Tightness in the throat
- Bitter taste in the throat and mouth
Risk Factors for Acid Reflux
Acid reflux affects people of all ages, sometimes for unknown reasons. While there are several risk factors that can be linked to acid reflux, the most common factor is eating a large meal. A large meal causes increased pressure in the stomach, which overpowers and consequently weakens the LES to cause reflux.
Other factors that weaken the LES and cause reflux are:
- Lifestyle: pregnancy, smoking, being overweight or obese, certain prescription medicines
- Eating Habits: snacking close to bedtime, lying down within 2 to 3 hours of eating, overeating
- Diet: alcohol, caffeine, fried or fatty foods, citrus fruits or juices, spicy foods, chocolate, low-fiber diet
Treating Acid Reflux with Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Knowing what foods and beverages trigger your acid reflux and eliminating them from your diet is key for controlling the condition, as the foods you eat affect the amount of acid that the stomach produces.
Foods that can help reduce acid reflux symptoms include:
- Green vegetables
- Lean meats and seafood
- Oatmeal (great source of fiber)
- Healthy fats: avocados, nuts, olive oil
- Ginger: anti-inflammatory properties help ease heartburn symptoms
You can also manage symptoms with lifestyle changes. Try these tips:
- Eat smaller portions, more often.
- Eat slower, and stop before you get too full.
- Wait 2 to 3 hours after eating before lying down.
- Drop a few extra pounds to ease pressure on the stomach.
- Avoid tight clothing or belts that can add extra pressure around your stomach.
OTC Remedies for Acid Reflux
In most circumstances, a change in lifestyle and diet with the assistance of over-the-counter medications, such as antacids, are all you need to control the symptoms of acid reflux. Antacids provide short-term relief by neutralizing stomach acid.
Occasional acid reflux is no cause for alarm. If you are experiencing acid reflux symptoms occurring twice a week or more, this may be indicative of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and you should consult your physician for an evaluation. GERD is a chronic form of acid reflux that can lead to serious complications in the long-term, including an increased risk of cancer.
To schedule an appointment with GastroIntestinal Specialists, A.M.C. or to learn more about Acid Reflux, GERD or other GI conditions treated by GastroIntestinal Specialists, call our clinic at (318) 631-9121.