What Causes Acid Reflux?
You may be one of the millions of people who suffer from occasional bouts of acid reflux. You already know how uncomfortable (and even painful) this condition can be. However, if you are like many people, you may find yourself confused by the way that people use the terms acid reflux, heartburn, and GERD interchangeably. It can leave you wondering what condition you have, and what the best method is for treating your symptoms. Knowing the difference between acid reflux and GERD can help you determine the cause of your symptoms. It can also give you a better chance of finding relief. To help get you started, keep reading for a quick overview of what it is. This includes what causes it, how it differs from GERD, and what steps you can take to reduce your symptoms.
What Is Acid Reflux?
The first question you may find yourself asking is what is acid reflux? It is also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and is the backward flow of stomach acid into the esophagus. The pain and tightness in your chest caused by it are commonly referred to as heartburn. While people are often confused by the difference between heartburn and acid reflux, these terms are generally used interchangeably. The main difference between the two is that heartburn is the term used to describe the burning feeling in the chest caused by it.
Acid reflux is an extremely common condition. An estimated 20 to 30 percent of Americans experience it at least once per week. Symptoms of acid reflux often appear shortly after eating certain foods and can last for several hours. In addition to a burning feeling in the chest, it can cause a variety of other symptoms. These include a sour taste in your mouth, coughing, hoarseness, or the feeling of having food stuck in your throat. Symptoms are often worse when lying down. This allows stomach acid to move more easily into the esophagus.
What Is the Difference Between Acid Reflux and GERD?
People often also use the terms acid reflux and GERD interchangeably, however, there are important differences between the two. Acid reflux is something people experience occasionally that can cause minor discomfort. However, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a more serious, chronic condition. GERD is a more severe form of it. People suffer from frequent heartburn, with symptoms occurring two or more times a week. Other signs and symptoms of GERD can include regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, and chest pain (especially when lying down).
Occasional acid reflux can be treated with over-the-counter medications. People who suspect that they may have GERD will need to consult a healthcare professional. This is because GERD causes chronic backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus, which can cause damage to the body over time such as esophagitis, ulcers, and tooth decay. In rare cases, GERD can even lead to cancer of the esophagus. This makes it important that you talk to your doctor about treatment options if you suffer from frequent heartburn, as you may have GERD.
What Causes Acid Reflux?
While not as serious as GERD, acid reflux can cause a great deal of discomfort, and you may wonder what causes this condition. It is generally caused by weakness of the lower esophageal sphincter. Normally, this valve closes tightly after the food enters your stomach. However, if it relaxes when it shouldn’t, this can allow stomach acid to rise back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn. While there is often no obvious reason why this happens, certain conditions and lifestyle choices can put people at an increased risk of experiencing acid reflux. Common causes of acid reflux include:
Lying Down After Eating
If you recline or lie down immediately after eating, this can increase your chances of experiencing heartburn. This is because it is easier for stomach acid to escape into the esophagus immediately after eating, and laying down makes it more likely that this will occur.
Experiencing excess levels of stress can put you at an increased risk of heartburn.
If you smoke cigarettes, drink frequently, or eat a lot of greasy foods, you are more likely to suffer from heartburn. Smoking is a particularly common cause of acid reflux, as it can increase acid secretion and impair muscle reflexes in the throat.
Eating Certain Foods
One of the most common causes of acid reflux is eating certain types of food, as people with diets high in dairy, spicy food, coffee, and fried food are more likely to experience heartburn. Also, eating acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus fruits/fruit juices can lead to acid reflux.
In addition to these factors, being overweight can also put you at a greater risk of experiencing acid reflux. If you frequently suffer from acid reflux, any number of factors could be contributing to your symptoms; however, you may be able to find relief by making simple lifestyle changes.
What Can I Do to Avoid Acid Reflux?
The best way to avoid heartburn is to make simple lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk of acid reflux. A few simple steps that you can follow to avoid acid reflux include:
- Eating smaller, more frequent meals
- Raising the head of your bed so that your head and chest are above your waist, as this can stop stomach acid from traveling upward
- Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
- Reducing your intake of greasy, fatty food
- Remaining upright for at least 60 minutes after you eat
- Cutting out any foods that seem to trigger your symptoms
Making these changes can help to reduce your symptoms over time. While you wait for these changes to take effect, you can take antacids such as Tums or Maalox for immediate symptom relief. If these changes do not seem to help, you may need to talk to your doctor about taking a prescription strength acid reducer such as a proton pump inhibitor (PPI).
Knowing the causes of acid reflux can help you to make lifestyle changes that can be effective in reducing your symptoms. However, if these changes don’t work, and/or you experience severe/chronic heartburn, you should consider talking to a medical professional to find out what your next steps should be for treating your acid reflux.
Feel free to contact us to learn more about acid reflux and how you will know when it is time to seek medical attention for your symptoms.