What is acid reflux?
What makes the LES FaultyAcid reflux happens when acid from the stomach goes back up into the esophagus. The esophagus is the long hollow tube where swallowed food passes through. It leads into the stomach where food is digested with the help of gastric juices (acids and enzymes). The lower end of the esophagus has a valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that keeps food and acid in the stomach from going back into the esophagus. When the LES fails to work properly, acid reflux happens.
Many people experience acid reflux from time to time. The occasional seeping of acid into the esophagus is quite harmless. However, the symptoms of acid reflux may be a cause of discomfort for many people.
What makes the LES Faulty
- Heartburn (a warm or burning sensation that spreads from the stomach upwards to the chest or throat)
- Regurgitation (happens when swallowed food goes back into the mouth)
- Hoarseness (caused by acid irritating the throat)
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathingCommon signs and symptoms
Common signs and symptoms
It is not very clear why the LES becomes faulty. One explanation is that the pressure from the stomach becomes high enough to prevent the LES from closing properly. The following are common factors that may trigger or worsen acid reflux:
- Heavy meals
- Bending forward or lying down after a meal
- Peptic ulcers
How do you treat acid reflux?
- Seek medical treatment
Acid reflux is commonly treated with antacids, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), histamine2(H2)-receptor blockers and promotility agents.
Antacids are frequently given for mild symptoms of acid reflux such as heartburn and indigestion. When heartburn becomes more frequent, antacids may no longer be effective.
H2- receptor blockers
Histamine is associated with acid production in the stomach. H2-receptor blockers prevent the actions of histamine by blocking its receptors. These drugs provide temporary relief.
They treat acid reflux by reducing the production of acid in the stomach and are more effective than antacids and H2-receptor blockers.
They help the stomach empty faster and strengthen the LES.
- Lifestyle changes
In many cases, acid reflux may be easily managed through simple lifestyle changes such as the following:
Choose what you eat
Certain foods trigger acid reflux. If you are beginning to experience acid reflux, try to avoid chili sauce, ketchup, tomato sauce, vinegar, soft drinks, orange and pineapple juice, coffee, garlic, onions and fatty or fried foods.
Eat small portions
A heavy meal may worsen acid reflux. Instead of taking three full meals, you may take frequent meals in smaller portions instead.
Obesity has been shown to increase the risk of acid reflux. The exact reason behind this remains unclear.
Smoking contributes to acid reflux. Smokers produce less saliva than nonsmokers and chemicals found in saliva help neutralize acid produced in the stomach. Smoking also weakens the LES which can worsen acid reflux.
Other simple ways to help reduce or prevent acid include:
- Wearing loose clothes
- Not lying down for three hours after meals
- Using more pillows when sleeping
- Raising the head of your bed before lying down.
When acid reflux happens more frequently, the strong acid from the stomach may irritate the walls of the esophagus. Unlike the stomach, the esophagus is unprotec ted from the harsh effects of the acid leading to dire complications such as narrowing of the esophagus and esophageal cancer.
Acid reflux may be a common problem and may interfere with daily activities. To prevent any complications associated with it, it is best to seek medical help as early as possible.
Article published 5 January 2021