Did you ever feel coughing or choking in the middle of the night? Or have you felt a sudden pain in your chest after having a big meal? If you answered yes to any of these, then you might be one of the million people who suffer from acid reflux.
But what exactly is acid reflux? Is it the same with heartburn? Read on to find out.
What is Acid Reflux? What about Heartburn?
Acid reflux and heartburn are often used interchangeably. But did you know that these concepts are different from each other? That’s right. Although the symptoms may be the same, there is a difference between the two.
Lower esophageal sphincter or LES is a ring of muscle found at the entrance of your stomach. Every time you eat, the LES opens then eventually closes as soon as the food passes through it. Then the stomach, which contains hydrochloric acid, will help in the proper digestion of food. The problem lies when the LES either does not close all the way or it opens too often that produces acid to your stomach and move up into your esophagus.
That is acid reflux. It occurs when the stomach acid goes up into the esophagus. As a result, you will experience heartburn, bloating, burping, nausea, choking, and regurgitation or the sour or bitter-tasting acid that backs up into your throat or mouth.
On the other hand, heartburn is only one of the symptoms you will experience when you are having acid reflux. It is a tight sensation that causes pain or discomfort in the middle of your chest, behind your breastbone area. It can move from your stomach up to your chest, abdomen and even into your throat.
In other words, ACID REFLUX causes heartburn and HEARTBURN is only a symptom of acid reflux.
What Is GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?
If you had spur of the moment acid reflux, which means this does not happen too often, then that is fine. But what if acid reflux and heartburn happens more than once a week and the backwash of acid starts to irritate the lining of your esophagus? Then you might have acid reflux disease, or medically known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
In simple terms, GERD is a more severe form of reflux. If you felt a burning pain in your chest area that is caused by the stomach acid flowing back into your esophagus for more than twice a week, then you are suffering from GERD. This is because the gastroesophageal sphincter or LES fails to act as a valve to protect the esophagus from the contents of the stomach.
It may seem like a not so serious type of condition but did you know that GERD affects millions of people, particularly those who live in the Western countries? In fact, Americans and other Westerners are even more at risk of this disease due to unhealthy lifestyle.
Still, it can be seen in people of all ages, regardless of where you came from.
But how will you know if you really have GERD?
During your consultation, your doctor will order various medical tests to confirm whether or not you have GERD. At the same time, these tests can tell if you are suffering from other medical conditions apart from GERD. Some of the tests are:
- Esophagram or barium swallow.
- Esophageal manometry to check whether your esophagus and LES are functioning properly.
- pH monitoring to check your esophagus’ acidity level.
- Endoscopy to see any issues in both your esophagus and stomach.
What Are Heartburn / Reflux Symptoms?
Again, heartburn is a burning sensation in the chest area that produces discomfort. Although you may experience heartburn occasionally, this does not automatically mean that you already have GERD or acid reflux disease. Keep in mind that heartburn is just one of the many symptoms of acid reflux.
So how will you know if you have acid reflux disease? You must have any or all of the following symptoms:
Dry and persistent cough
Throat problems such as soreness, hoarseness or voice box inflammation (also known as laryngitis)
Pain or difficulty when swallowing. This can also be called as dysphagia or the narrowing of the esophagus that creates a feeling of sensation wherein the food is stuck in your throat
Chest or upper abdominal pain
Unexplained weight loss
If you experienced any of these along with heartburn, then consult a doctor immediately. This can minimize the complications involved with your condition and prevent it from getting worse.
What Causes Acid Reflux Disease?
You may say that you have been trying really hard to stay on the healthy side. So how come you still have acid reflux disease? The truth is lifestyle factors really affects this type of condition. Also, there are other factors that can contribute to this which can be difficult to prevent. And yes, exercising does not guarantee that you will be exempted from GERD.
So what causes GERD? Here is a checklist of the different risk factors that can cause this type of disease.
Hiatal hernia. Hernia or rupture is a term that refers to something that penetrates through the muscle tissue or membrane. When it comes to GERD, this type of hernia forms at the opening of the diaphragm where the esophagus connects to the stomach. If you have hiatal hernia, it means there is an anatomical abnormality that lets the upper part of your stomach to enter the chest cavity by allowing it to push up through the diaphragm.
Pregnancy. For the ladies, your body changes a lot when you are pregnant. Although there is joy in welcoming a new addition to the family, pregnancy bring a lot of body issues and medical conditions such as GERD. This is because pregnancy can cause the acid contents from the stomach to push it up to your esophagus.
Smoking. Smoking is NOT good for your health. Period. But aside from the possibility of having lung cancer, smoking can be a risk factor that can lead to GERD too.
Being overweight. Ever heard of the saying, “too much of something is not good?” Being on the chubby side may be cute on kids but not for adults. Plus, it can also lead to other health problems including acid reflux disease.
Effect of some medications. If you are taking medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, muscle relaxers, or blood pressure medications, then you might be at risk in developing acid reflux disease. Also, drugs for asthma, antihistamine, sedative, antidepressants and pain killers can also lead to GERD.
Exercise especially after eating. Exercise is good for the body and overall health. However, if you exercise immediately after eating, that is where the problem lies. This is because it will increase pressure on the abdominal cavity that can lead to acid reflux.
High intake of table salt.
Low dietary fiber.
Ever notice a common denominator among most of the causes? LIFESTYLE FACTORS. Therefore, try your best and stay on the healthy side all the time. Get rid of excess weight, quit smoking while it is still early, and eat smaller but healthy meals.
What Are the Acid Reflux Foods to Avoid?
Food can be too hard to resist, especially when you are tired after a long day at work or you feel stressed or depressed. However, there are certain foods that can contribute to GERD. And not all foods are good for you.
Here is a list of some of the many GERD-trigger foods you should avoid.
• Alcohol, especially red wine. They say a glass of one a day is safe. But did you know that even moderate quantities of alcohol and other high-proof liquor can already impair your esophagus’ ability to clear acid, especially when you are lying down? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, lying down after drinking liquor can increase GERD symptoms. However, there are conflicting views as to whether stopping alcohol intake can improve your reflux conditions. Still, there is nothing wrong when you quit drinking right?
• Soda and other carbonated beverages. Carbonated drinks can cause gastric distension. This means that when your stomach is bloated, it can increase pressure in your esophageal sphincter that can lead to acid reflux. Sodas may be okay once in a while but too much of it is a big NO-NO.
• Citrus fruits such as orange and lemons. A dose of vitamin C is needed by your body to help fight off bacteria and diseases. Apparently, tangy citrus fruits such as orange, lemon and grapefruit are classic heartburn foods since these are very acidic. But if you really cannot help it, just make sure not to eat citrus fruits in an empty stomach.
• Spicy foods such as those that contain chili or curry. If you love spicy food but experience acid reflux symptoms every time you eat something spicy, then this can be bad news for you. Spicy foods with lots of pepper and spices can trigger heartburn too. But this does not mean you have to stop eating spicy food. You can opt for milder, less spicy versions if you like to lessen the risk of acid reflux and heartburn.
• Tomato-based foods such as spaghetti sauce, pizza and salsa. Tomatoes are rich in essential nutrients such as lycopene. But did you know that it is also acidic and can cause heartburn? Yes, you read that right. If you experience heartburn and any other acid reflux symptoms, then maybe you should limit your intake of tomatoes. If this is too hard for you, then you can try eating sour balls after since it promotes saliva that can help neutralize the acid that comes up from your stomach.
• Beef. Any food that can be hard to digest can create problems. And the perfect example for that is meat. Thick, juicy beef requires more acid in your stomach to be able to digest it completely. This is because it can affect your stomach’s digestive process that can lead to GERD.
• Cheese. Burgers, pizza and pasta will never be the same without cheese. Although cheese is not an acidic food, it is still high in fat. Keep in mind that fat slows down your stomach’s ability to empty it which can make it bloated. This will then increase pressure on your LES which will lead to heartburn and other GERD symptoms.
• Fatty and fried foods. Anything fried is yummy. However, it can be your digestive tract’s biggest enemy. Fried and fatty foods can be challenging to digest which can slow down and affect your overall digestive process. It can also create increased pressure in your stomach, which is not a good sign if you want to prevent acid reflux. As a result, it can leave excess acids on your stomach for quite some time and will eventually move up to your esophagus.
• Garlic and onion. The kitchen cabinet will never be complete without these two ingredients. Unfortunately, it is one of the heartburn triggers too. If you have history of heartburn, then it is better to stay away from these two and use different alternatives in cooking.
• Chocolate. Bad news chocolate lovers. Sadly, chocolate is considered as a heartburn food. This is because it relaxes the sphincter or LES which allows the stomach acids to flow back and go up into your esophagus. It may be the ultimate comfort food but it is definitely not good especially when you are already prone to GERD.
• Coffee and other caffeinated drinks. A cup of coffee is the perfect pick-me-upper every morning. Unfortunately, it is also, along with other caffeinated drinks such as tea and soda, among the biggest offenders when it comes to acid reflux. But for many, including you perhaps, a “no coffee policy” might be too much to handle. You can try by limiting your coffee intake with one cup every morning. It may not be that much but at least you will minimize the risk for acid reflux.
• Mint. Mints may be good for your breath especially when you are on a date. And contrary to popular belief that it can sooth your stomach, peppermint is actually a heartburn trigger food too. It helps relax the sphincter muscles that lay between the esophagus and stomach. Because the muscles are relaxed, it easily allows the stomach acids to flow back into your esophagus.
• Baked and processed goods such as biscuits, cakes and candy. From the term itself, processed goods are full of artificial colors, ingredients and preservatives. This means it can create an acidic environment which can lead to acid reflux.
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What Is the Acid Reflux Diet?
So what will you eat then? While all of the foods mentioned are acid reflux triggers, this does not mean you should avoid all of these completely. The key is finding your triggers. If you felt that any of these foods causes you heartburn, then stop or at least limit your intake. At the same time, look for safer alternatives. If fried foods gives you pain in your chest, then try steamed. If coffee makes your heart burn, limit it to one cup a day. It is just a matter of discipline.
But what if your favorites are not on the list? Does this mean you can eat it for as many as you want?
No. There is no such thing as “free pass” when it comes to acid reflux. Any food can cause heartburn especially when you eat too much of it. At the same time, it is about when you eat too. If you had a large meal before you lie down, even if what you ate are not among the listed trigger foods, you can still develop acid reflux.
Hence, keep a journal of what you eat and write down any observations after eating it. Once you identified what food causes such, slowly cut it down from your diet.
What Are the Acid Reflux Home Remedies?
Now that you know the symptoms, causes and different risk factors of acid reflux disease, the question now is how to treat acid reflux, if it really can be treated?
The good news is GERD can be treated. And you don’t need fancy procedures just to get rid of it. Aside from lifestyle changes, here are some acid reflux home remedies that can help you treat this condition.
• Slippery elm. This tea tree extract thickens your stomach’s mucous lining. Since it can provide a protective layer to your stomach’s tissue, it will create a strong barrier against the acid.
• Chew a gum. Chewing gum helps force the fluids back into your stomach and flood your esophagus with saliva. This can neutralize the acids that cause burning sensations of heartburn.
• Baking soda. Consider it old wives’ tale but baking soda is one of the best ways to treat acid reflux and heartburn. Because it is base, baking soda can help neutralize stomach acid. You can try by mixing half teaspoon of baking soda with a glass of water.
• Apples. An apple a day can definitely keep your heartburn away. It cools the burn and neutralize stomach acid, making it an effective home remedy.
Acid reflux disease may not be a serious health condition but it still requires your attention and treatment. Use this information to help you get rid of this disease and start living a reflux-free life.