It is estimated that up to 60 million Americans suffer from heartburn at least once a month, and nearly 15 million experience acid reflux or heartburn every day. Occasional heartburn is typically just an annoyance for patients, but those who experience it often know that it can negatively affect their quality of life. Read on to learn more about what acid reflux disease is, what the symptoms are, when to talk to your doctor, and to prevent cases of persistent heartburn.
What Is Acid Reflux Disease?
Essentially, acid reflux or heartburn occurs when stomach acid finds its way into the esophagus. This usually occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) does not close as it properly should. The LES is a small muscle that guards the entrance to your stomach. Acid can pass from the stomach to the esophagus if the LES doesn’t close all the way, or if it is open too often. In some patients, this only occurs once in a while and is easily cured with over-the-counter antacids. However, some patients report that they have persistent heartburn, which happens several times a week or even daily. Most likely, these patients have acid reflux disease, which is also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Causes of GERD are varied and can be different for different patients. Some common causes include hiatal hernia, pregnancy (which causes temporary acid reflux disease), eating certain foods, such as those with a tomato base or spicy foods, eating too close to bedtime, or drinking alcohol or caffeine. While these are common causes of persistent heartburn, there are other causes as well, such as:
- Obesity, or being overweight
- Eating a large meal and lying down
- Taking certain medications, such as blood pressure medications, aspirin, or ibuprofen
While GERD can be managed with medications, physicians usually advise patients to make some lifestyle changes to help combat the symptoms of acid reflux. If patients ask, “which foods cause acid reflux,” the answer may be different for each individual patient, but some key foods include chocolate, tomato-based foods, and spicy foods.
What Are the Symptoms of Acid Reflux Disease?
The most common symptoms of acid reflux disease include heartburn and regurgitation. However, other symptoms come into play when doctors diagnose a patient with GERD. Some other common acid reflux symptoms include:
- Diarrhea or blood in the stool
- Persistent, dry cough
- Unexplained weight loss
If you are experiencing a mixture of persistent heartburn as well as some of these other symptoms, it’s best to consult your doctor for a clinical diagnosis. What helps acid reflux is usually a mix of pharmacology and lifestyle changes, but your doctor can provide you with the best acid reflux treatment.
How Can I Prevent Acid Reflux Disease?
When it comes to the prevention of acid reflux, lifestyle changes are essential. Physicians often advise patients to lose weight and to keep their body mass index (BMI) within normal ranges. This can help take pressure off the LES muscle and your diaphragm. Limiting alcohol intake and quitting smoking are also top acid reflux remedies. Smoking and ethanol can both damage the lining of the esophagus over time. Too much coffee or caffeine can also be an irritant.
When it comes to limiting or restricting foods, health experts advise avoiding too much chocolate, eating a low-carb diet, avoiding citrus beverages and juices, and limiting carbonated beverage intake. All of these can contribute to acid reflux disease. Acid reflux medicine treatment typically includes one of the “azole” medication (omeprazole, pantoprazole). Many are available over the counter, but your doctor may prescribe prescription strength, particularly for persistent heartburn. If you need more information about acid reflux disease or heartburn, or would like to be seen, request an appointment today at GI Associates & Endoscopy Center. We offer three separate locations for convenience as well as pediatric services.