Acid reflux is a common condition, affecting approximately 20% of the population on a regular basis. It happens when the acids in your stomach move up into the esophagus, the tube that moves food down from the throat to the stomach. It can cause a number of symptoms in varying degrees of severity. Fortunately, it can often be prevented and treated successfully.
At the bottom of the esophagus, a ring of muscles, known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), opens to allow food into the stomach. Usually, the LES closes tightly after the food has entered, which prevents the stomach’s contents and acids from backing up into the esophagus. If you have acid reflux, however, it means the ring does not close tightly enough or it may open too frequently, allowing stomach acids and other digestive juices to travel back into the esophagus. This irritates and damages the lining of the esophagus. Symptoms of acid reflux can vary from person to person, but often include:
- Heartburn (a burning pain behind the breastbone)
- Sour or bitter taste in your mouth (from the stomach acids)
- Bad breath
- Hoarseness or laryngitis
- Sore throat
- Dry cough
- Difficulty swallowing
- Sensation of a lump in your throat
- Erosion of tooth enamel from the stomach acids
You may be diagnosed with a condition called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) if you experience acid reflux symptoms more than twice a week. GERD is a chronic type of acid reflux, which if left untreated, can lead to serious medical complications, such as esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus), esophageal stricture (narrowing of the esophagus), respiratory problems, and Barrett’s esophagus.
The muscles in the esophagus can weaken with age, causing older adults to be at a greater risk of developing acid reflux. However, there are several other factors that can cause it, which include:
Being overweight or obese, particularly if excess weight is carried around the stomach, can cause acid reflux. Weight can also increase pressure on the abdomen, which can cause acid to back up into the esophagus.
Nicotine causes the LES to relax, which can allow acid more opportunities to travel into the esophagus. Smoking can also reduce the production of saliva, making the esophagus lining more sensitive to stomach acids. Smoking can also make reflux symptoms worse.
Certain medications can cause acid reflux, including iron supplements, over-the-counter medications (aspirin and ibuprofen), antibiotics, and some prescription medications for asthma, emphysema, high blood pressure, anxiety, and osteoporosis.
There is increased pressure on the abdomen during pregnancy, and some hormones that are produced can relax the LES and the muscles in the esophagus, which can cause food to move more slowly and acid to back up into the esophagus.
A hiatal hernia is when a small part of the stomach protrudes through an opening in the diaphragm (the muscle inside of the chest wall). It doesn’t always cause symptoms, but can increase the risk of developing GERD and symptoms like heartburn, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, and belching.
Poor eating habits and some foods can worsen reflux symptoms, such as eating too much, or lying down just after eating, which can cause food to back up from the stomach into the esophagus. Some foods can irritate the digestive system and cause the stomach to produce excessive acid, which can also trigger symptoms of acid reflux. These include:
- Acidic foods, such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and tomato-based foods (spaghetti sauce, salsa, chili, and pizza)
- Drinks with caffeine or alcohol
- Carbonated drinks
- Fatty and fried foods
- Garlic and onions
- Spicy foods
- Mint-flavored candy or food
Maintaining a healthy weight can help to reduce acid reflux, but some exercises (such as running) or eating right before or after a workout can trigger acid reflux. High impact exercises can also reduce blood flow to the gastrointestinal area and cause increased amounts of gastric fluids, which can cause irritation. Swallowing air during exercise can also relax the LES, allowing acid into the esophagus.
Diagnosis And Treatment
Acid reflux or GERD can be diagnosed by reviewing your medical history and symptoms. Tests may also be recommended, such as an upper GI endoscopy, barium swallow, esophageal manometry, pH impedance testing, or The Bravo™ capsule test. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, medication, or a combination of treatments to bring you relief. In severe cases, surgery may be considered if other treatments are unsuccessful.
GI Care in Greater Austin
If you are experiencing symptoms of a digestive disorder, such as acid reflux, call Austin Gastroenterology today. Our experienced providers see patients in 18 offices throughout the greater Austin area. To find out more about our services or to schedule an appointment, contact us at the office most convenient to you, or use our online appointment request form.