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July 6, 2016 | Gastroenterology
Uh-oh. It’s happening again. You feel bloated after your meal, and a burning pain is traveling from your stomach up to your chest. You can feel the acid backing up into your throat, or perhaps even regurgitating into your mouth.
It isn’t a pleasant experience, nor an uncommon one. Gastroesophageal reflux (GER)—also known as acid indigestion, acid reflux, and heartburn—happens to everyone occasionally. But when it occurs more than twice a week for a few weeks, it could indicate a case of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a form of acid reflux that can lead to serious health problems. Approximately 20 percent of Americans have GERD.
In addition to the bloating, heartburn in your chest/abdomen, and a sour or bitter-tasting liquid in your throat, other symptoms of acid reflux include:
• Bloody or black stools, or bloody vomiting
• Hiccups that won’t stop
• Dysphagia — a narrowing of your esophagus, which makes it feel as if food is stuck in your throat
• Unexplained weight loss
• Chronic sore throat, hoarseness, dry cough or wheezing
1) Although anyone can develop GERD, overweight and obese people are more likely to have GERD. One reason for this is that extra weight causes the stomach and its acids to rise up closer to the esophagus. Losing weight can improve your symptoms.
2) A diet high in foods and beverages that trigger symptoms is another primary cause.
Common culprits include:
Citrus fruits, such as oranges or lemons
Foods containing tomatoes, such as spaghetti sauce, salsa, or pizza
Garlic and onions
Fatty or fried foods
Spicy foods, such as those containing chili or curry
Coffee or tea (regular or decaffeinated)
3) Many women experience acid reflux for the first time during pregnancy due to increasing levels of hormones combined with pressure from the growing fetus. Symptoms are typically worse during the third trimester but usually disappear after delivery.
4) Stomach abnormalities, including hiatal hernia, cause GERD in people of all ages. Normally, your diaphragm prevents acid from rising into your esophagus, but a hiatal hernia makes it easier for acid to move up into your esophagus.
5) People who smoke, or those regularly exposed to secondhand smoke, are at greater risk for GERD. Smoking contributes to acid reflux disease by:
Increasing acid secretion
Reducing salivation, which neutralizes the effect of acid
Damaging mucus membranes
Impairing muscle reflexes in the throat
Reducing LES muscle function
It’s essential that you consult your gastroenterologist if you feel your symptoms are worsening. Over time, the damage to the esophagus caused by acid reflux can result in a serious condition called Barrett’s esophagus. This precancerous change to the lining of the esophagus occurs in approximately 10 percent of GERD cases, and white males who smoke and experience many years of early-onset GERD are at the highest risk for developing the condition.
Dietary changes, certain herbs, and weight loss can often manage the symptoms of GERD in the early stages. A beneficial diet includes whole grains like oatmeal and brown rice, low-acid green vegetables and fruits, and lean proteins.
Over-the-counter medications and antacids are sometimes all that’s needed to control acid reflux. Some herbal remedies can help relieve the symptoms of GERD, including slippery elm, chamomile, marshmallow, ginger, and licorice root. Aloe vera, parsley, and fennel help some people.
Other suggestions include:
Eat smaller amounts of food at each sitting
Avoiding tight-fitting clothing in the abdominal region
Don’t lie down for three hours after eating
Place blocks under the feet of the bed to elevate your head by at least 6 inches.
Massage, yoga, and meditation can help control symptoms, and some preliminary studies show that acupuncture is effective for treating heartburn.
If antacids don’t help, your doctor may prescribe a medication or a combination of medications. In very rare cases, two types of last-resort surgical treatments are used to relieve symptoms when medications are ineffective.
Are you concerned about a loved one’s acid reflux or your own heartburn? Revere Health’s gastroenterologists are specialists who diagnose and treat a wide variety of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, including acid reflux and Barrett’s esophagus. We offer compassionate, patient-centered care in multiple Utah locations.
The Live Better Team
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This information is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. You should always consult your doctor before making decisions about your health.