Acid Reflux

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In chronic acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), excessive acid in the stomach flows back to the esophagus, which irritates it in return. Getting it occasionally is normal, but in GERD, people experience it every time they eat. 

About 20% of the global population is estimated to suffer from chronic acid reflux. It is the most commonly diagnosed gastrointestinal condition in the USA, affecting approximately 20% of Americans. The most numerous group of people with GERD are women, accounting for 60% of cases.

Continue reading the article to learn more facts about chronic acid reflux and find answers to the following questions:

What is chronic acid reflux (GERD)?

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or chronic acid reflux, is where acid reflux occurs at least twice a week, persisting for several weeks. It’s a common disease in Western countries due to their dietary and lifestyle habits, which are more prevalent than in other countries. Although many people experience indigestion, heartburn, or abdominal pain, the severe equivalent of these health issues is often observed in developed countries, where obesity, smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating fatty, fried foods are more common dietary and lifestyle habits.

Due to several factors, a typical, occasional heartburn may develop into GERD, a chronic condition characterized by more severe symptoms and a risk of suffering from complications.

Causes

Acid reflux occurs when the esophagus is irritated and damaged by hydrochloric acid – a strong acid present in the stomach that helps break down food and kill pathogens. The stomach is protected by this acid thanks to its lining, adapted to withstand a highly acidic environment. However, this is not the case for the esophagus, an organ that connects the pharynx to the stomach. If acidic stomach contents flow back to it, a condition described as acidic reflux may occur.

The common cause of chronic acid reflux is hiatal herniaTrusted Source, a stomach abnormality in which the upper part of the stomach protrudes into the chest through the large muscle that separates the chest and abdomen. However, there are other reasons why acid reflux may occur, not necessarily associated with organ abnormalities. For most people, these are related to their lifestyle and diet and are more accurately described as ‘risk factors.’

Risk factors

Risk factors of chronic acid reflux include lifestyle habits, taking specific medicines, and diseases. GERD can affect anyone regardless of their age and state of health. Nevertheless, the risk increases due to the following factors:

Certain food and liquids have also been linked to GERD. If your dietary habits consist of the following, you are at risk of triggering acid reflux:

It is also possible to aggravate acid reflux by certain eating habits and behaviors. For example, eating huge meals or lying down within a few hours after eating can trigger GERD symptoms for some people.

Symptoms

Chronic acid reflux can cause many symptoms, which are different for everyone. Symptoms observed most often are heartburn (a burning feeling located in the middle of the chest) and an unpleasant taste at the back of the mouth.

All symptoms that are likely to occur in chronic acid reflux are as follows:

Less common symptoms of GERD include:

It is also worth noting that GERD has a slightly different course in infantsTrusted Source. If you have a baby, the below symptoms may indicate acid reflux:

Certain symptoms of GERD may get worse despite the first treatment attempts, and new ones may also appear. The below health issues are referred to as alarm symptoms and require medical attention:

Acid Reflux: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Complications

If GERD is not treated, treated inadequately, or poorly managed at home, it can result in serious health complications. Typically, chronic acid reflux does not lead to additional issues, but a small percentage of people are affected by one of the following conditions:

Strictures: occurs when the stomach acid causes significant damage, leading to scar and problems with swallowing

EsophagitisTrusted Source: occurs when the lining of the esophagus gets inflamed, leading to bleeding, irritation, and sometimes ulceration

Barrett’s esophagus: prolonged exposure to stomach acid may also lead to changes in tissues and cells of the esophagus lining

Other, less common complications, can also occur:

Diagnosis and tests

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) diagnosis encompasses reviewing your medical history, physical examination, and determining if other condition causes the symptoms. If a doctor has no reason to believe you developed GERD complications or are affected by a disease mimicking chronic acid reflux symptoms, they may recommend treatment, including medications, diet, and lifestyle changes. Otherwise, they may want to rule out other possibilities and order the following tests and procedures:

Conventional treatment

The most effective way to get rid of acid reflux is to follow some dos and don’ts rules. These include limiting the use of certain substances, avoiding eating trigger foods, and lifestyle changes. The table below consists of the best habits to treat GERD recommended by healthcare professionals:

To dosDrink less caffeinated beverages
Limit alcohol intake
Drink less carbonated beverages
Avoid smoking and exposure to tobacco smoke
Eat smaller meals more often
Introduce low-carb foods to your diet
Keep moderate weight
Stay physically active
To don’tsDon’t sleep on your right side
Don’t eat before going to bed
Don’t eat raw onions
Don’t eat large meals in the evening
Don’t wear clothes that are tight in the abdomen area
Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter medications to control the symptoms of GERD. In most cases, the combination of antacids that neutralize the stomach acid and lifestyle changes is all needed to eliminate the symptoms.

If antacids are ineffective, a doctor may prescribe other medications such as H2 blockersTrusted Source, proton pump inhibitors, prokinetics, and foaming agents. Make sure to follow your doctor’s advice and only combine medications after discussing it first during a visit.

Diet for chronic acid reflux

The best foods to eat while suffering from acid reflux include watery foods, high-fiber foods, and alkaline foods. Such a diet should be no short of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. An anti-GERD diet aids the digestive process and keeps the food in the stomach longer, preventing stomach acid from flowing back to the esophagus. Take a look at the below table to learn what kind of foods you should consider adding to your diet:

Food GroupRecommended foods
Watery foodswatermelon, lettuce, herbal tea, broth-based soups, cucumber, celery
High-fiber foodswhole grains (brown rice, couscous, oatmeal), green vegetables (broccoli, green beans, asparagus), root vegetables (carrots, beets, sweet potatoes)
Alkaline foodsTrusted Sourcebananas, nuts, fennels, cauliflower, melons
Home remediesginger, apple cider vinegar, milk, lemon water, aloe vera juice, peppermint, pickle juice, baking soda
Acid Reflux: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Surgery for GERD

If medications and lifestyle changes don’t help get rid of acid reflux, a doctor may recommend surgery. This last resort applies to a small percentage of people whose acid reflux symptoms don’t improve despite treatment and keep interfering in their everyday lives. Two surgical methods are available to treat GERD once and for all.

The first procedure involves placing a device known as LINXTrusted Source outside the lower end of the esophagus. The device prevents acidic stomach contents from returning to the esophagus (tube connecting the mouth to the stomach). Although the procedure is approved, it is not recommended for people allergic to certain metals. 

The second procedure, a fundoplication, can also prevent acid reflux. It involves creating an artificial valve by wrapping the upper stomach around the lower part of the esophagus. This method is used to treat hiatal hernia but can also resolve gastroesophageal reflux disease that can’t be treated with medications.

Key facts

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), known as chronic acid reflux, involves the frequent backflow of stomach content into the esophagus, leading to persistent irritation. The condition affects around 20% of the global population.

Diagnosis involves reviewing medical history, physical exams, and tests such as endoscopy, impedance monitoring, pH monitoring, and esophageal manometry.

Dietary choices play a significant role, with an anti-GERD diet focusing on watery and high-fiber foods, alkaline foods, and avoiding trigger foods. Home remedies like ginger, apple cider vinegar, and aloe vera juice can also offer relief.

Treatment strategies encompass lifestyle adjustments like weight management, avoiding trigger foods, raising the head of the bed, and refraining from eating before bedtime. Medications like antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors are commonly prescribed. Surgery options, such as LINX or fundoplication, are considered a last resort for severe cases.

Sources

August 24, 2023
8 minutes read
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