Acid Reflux: What Causes Them? (AND 7 Lifestyle Changes For It)
Acid reflux is a condition in which the person experiences a burning sensation in the lower part of the chest. This can be accompanied by a dry cough and discomfort in the chest or upper abdominal area.
No clear data about the prevalence of acid reflux is available for Asian countries. A chronic form of this condition called GERD is commonly found in North America and Europe, with Asians having a lower risk of developing this condition.
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What Exactly Is Acid Reflux?
A valve called the Lower Oesophageal Sphincter (LES) is located in the area where the oesophagus meets the stomach. When food passes through the oesophagus to the stomach, the LES closes, preventing the food from going up. Sometimes, the LES does not close properly or opens too often. When this happens, the acid produced by the stomach moves up the oesophagus. This is called acid reflux.
Normally, this phenomenon will last for a few hours and subside on its own. However, if this condition occurs more than twice a week, it may be termed as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
What Causes Acid Reflux?
The main cause of this condition is due to an abnormality in the stomach called the hiatal hernia. The diaphragm has a small opening called the hiatus, through which the oesophagus passes before connecting to the stomach. In individuals with hiatal hernia, the stomach pushes up through the hiatus into the chest. This causes the acid to move up into the chest, resulting in acid reflux.
Acid reflux can be triggered by any of the below factors:
- Eating a large quantity of food
- Lying down immediately after having food
- Being overweight or obese
- Food items like citrus, onion, garlic, and spicy and oily food
- Beverages like tea, coffee, alcohol, carbonated drink
- Delay in emptying the stomach
- Disorder in the connective tissues like scleroderma
- Medications like aspirin
In addition, pregnant women may also experience acid reflux because of the various changes in their bodies, such as hormonal changes, or the foetus pressing against the mother’s stomach.
What Are The Symptoms Of Acid Reflux?
The main symptoms are:
- Heartburn, which is a burning sensation that moves up from your stomach to the chest or even throat
- A bitter taste on the back of your throat or mouth
- A feeling of food being stuck in your mouth
- Weight loss
- Dry cough
How is Acid Reflux Diagnosed?
Acid reflux is normally diagnosed with its symptoms. If the condition persists for a longer time and does not subside through medication, the doctor will prescribe certain tests to figure out whether there are any other complications.
Barium swallow test
In this test, the patient will be asked to swallow a solution that shows up on the x-ray. Based on the result, the doctor can determine whether there are ulcers or narrowing of the oesophagus.
pH monitoring test
This test is conducted to determine the acid content of your oesophagus. The doctor will insert a device into the oesophagus and leave it for 1-2 days. With the help of the device, the doctor can determine the level of acid in the food pipe.
In the case of endoscopy, a long tube with a camera is inserted into your throat and down the stomach. This helps to figure out any problems that may be occurring in the oesophagus or the stomach.
What Are The Treatment Options For Acid Reflux?
The doctor normally prescribes medication(s) along with lifestyle changes for treating acid reflux. Few of the medications include:
- Antacid: This helps to neutralise the acid content in the stomach. However, antacids should be used in limited quantities as over-consumption may potentially cause diarrhoea in some patients.
- Foaming agent: Foaming agents like Gaviscon coat the stomach and prevent acid reflux.
- Histamine-2 receptor antagonist (H2RAs): These are meant to decrease acid production. H2RA may not provide immediate relief, but the result will be long lasting for up to 12 hours. These medications include famotidine and cimetidine.
If none of the treatment options is working, the doctor will recommend surgery. This includes
- Fundoplication: This is a laparoscopic procedure in which the upper part of the stomach will be tightened, either partially or fully, to prevent acid reflux.
- LINX device: This is a small ring with magnetic beads that is fixed in the area where the stomach and oesophagus meet. The beads have a strong magnetic attraction that prevents the acid from entering the oesophagus.
7 Lifestyle Changes For Treating Acid Reflux
Lifestyle changes are the first step towards treating acid reflux. This includes:
- Avoiding food that may trigger acid reflux, like spicy and oily food
- Eating a smaller quantity of meals spread throughout the day
- Eating slowly by chewing properly
- Not lying down immediately after a meal
- Lying down with head in an elevated position
- Not wearing tight clothes or belts that can trigger reflux
- Reducing weight through regular exercise
If you experience any of the symptoms of acid reflux, you should consult a gastroenterologist without delay. The doctor will conduct a detailed examination and prescribe lifestyle changes or medication depending on the severity of the condition.