Acid reflux is a common condition that can affect people at varying degrees. It occurs when acid in the stomach flows back up through the esophagus (the tube that transfers food from your throat to your stomach).
At the bottom of the esophagus, a ring of muscles known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) opens to allow food into the stomach. Normally, the LES closes tightly after food has entered the stomach; but with acid reflux, the ring does not close tightly enough. The LES may also open too frequently, thereby allowing stomach acids to pass back into the esophagus.
When acid reflux occurs more than twice a week, a person may be diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Common symptoms of acid reflux include:
- A burning pain (commonly referred to as heartburn) which is felt in the chest and upper abdomen and usually occurs after eating
- Pain that worsens when lying down or bending forward
- A bitter or sour taste in the mouth
What Causes Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux can affect people of all ages, but the esophagus muscles and the LES can weaken with age – making older adults at higher risk of being affected. More commonly, acid reflux is brought on as a result of lifestyle factors and diet. These include:
Being overweight or obese can cause acid reflux, particularly if excess weight is carried around the stomach. This increases pressure in the abdomen, which can cause acid to back up into the esophagus.
Nicotine relaxes the LES and thereby allows acid into the esophagus. Smoking can also reduce saliva production, which can make the esophagus lining more sensitive to stomach acids. It can also cause your heartburn to be more severe.
Maintaining a healthy weight can really help reduce acid reflux as well as keep you healthy, but high-impact exercise – such as gymnastics or running – and eating too soon before a workout can trigger acid reflux. That is because the food did not have enough time to digest.
Certain exercises can reduce blood flow to the gastrointestinal area and create an increased amount of gastric fluids, which can cause irritation. Swallowing air during exercise can also relax the LES, allowing acid into the esophagus.
The hormones produced during pregnancy can relax the LES and the muscles in the esophagus, which can cause food to move more slowly toward the stomach. Plus, the increased pressure on the abdomen during pregnancy can cause acid to back up into the esophagus.
Food and Drink
Certain foods and drinks can irritate the digestive system and cause the stomach to produce excessive acid, thereby triggering acid reflux. These include alcohol, carbonated drinks, spicy foods, tomato-based foods, onions, garlic, mint, and products with mint flavoring. Fruits such as oranges, apples, limes, pineapple, and tomatoes can worsen acid reflux symptoms due to their acidic level. This also includes fruit juices.
Eating high-fat foods such as fried food, fatty cuts of meat, and full-fat dairy products can cause the LES to relax and allow more stomach acid to back up into the esophagus. Chocolate and caffeine contain methylxanthine, which is an ingredient that has also been found to relax the LES and increase acid reflux.
Certain medications can cause acid reflux in some people. These include over-the-counter medications such as aspirin and ibuprofen, and certain prescription medications for asthma, emphysema, high blood pressure, anxiety, and osteoporosis. Antibiotics and iron supplements can also trigger acid reflux.
One cause of acid reflux that is not preventable is a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia occurs when a hole in the diaphragm allows part of the stomach to protrude through the muscles and into the chest wall.
A major symptom of a hiatal hernia is the backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus. A hiatal hernia increases the risk of developing GERD.
Gastroenterologists in Carlisle, PA
GERD and acid reflux can cause unpleasant symptoms, but often they can be prevented and treated effectively with lifestyle changes, nonprescription antacids, and medications. Surgery is rarely required. Occasionally GERD can lead to a serious medical complication such as erosive esophagitis if left untreated. It is always best to seek advice from your gastroenterologist if you are suffering from the symptoms of GERD or acid reflux.
If you are experiencing symptoms of acid reflux or any other digestive problem and would like expert advice and treatment, contact our team at Carlisle Digestive Disease Associates at (717) 245-2228 to schedule an appointment, or use our online appointment request form.
You don’t have to live with unpleasant, uncomfortable symptoms. Get back to a happy, healthier you by contacting us today!