The Causes and Treatment of Acid Reflux and GERD
An estimated 10%-20% of the US population has some type of heartburn symptoms once a week. There are a number of things that can cause this pain and for many people; the pain goes away after a few hours. For others, the pain can be persistent and even debilitating. Let Providence Physicians help find thesource of the heartburn pain so we can help you get the right treatment.
What is Heartburn or Acid Reflux?
When you eat, cells in the stomach lining release an acid that begins the processes of digestion. The stomach lining itself is protected from the acid but if the acid should come up out of the stomach into the esophagus, a painful response happens.
Heartburn has nothing to do with the heart, but the burning sensation is accurate. The technical term is acid reflux which describes the stomach acid making its way up and out of the stomach. A small muscle (sphincter) located at the point where the esophagus enters the stomach controls the movement of food into and acid out of the stomach. When something keeps this sphincter from working correctly, acid reflux occurs.
A number of situations can cause this such as overeating (excess food in the stomach), and being overweight or pregnant (both resulting in excess pressure on the stomach). Some foods can cause the sphincter to relax such as:
• citrus fruits
Other things can cause an increase in the amount of stomach acid produced:
• foods high in fats or oils
• certain medications
• lack of sleep
When symptoms are severe and persist, another condition could be present called GERD.
What is GERD?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD , is where the acid reflux occurs constantly so that the lining in the esophagus is damaged. Permanent damage to the sphincter allows the acid to escape the stomach. Every time you eat, acid is produced and could cause pain. In severe cases, ulcers and cancer can develop in the stomach or esophagus.
The symptoms of GERD include a burning sensation in the stomach area as well as:
• feeling full quickly
• appetite loss
• pain when swallowing
If you suspect that you have GERD symptoms and you experience the following conditions, contact your physician for an evaluation.
• The heartburn occurs frequently throughout the week
• The heartburn appears to be getting worse
• The pain prevents you from sleeping
• The pain continues after taking medication
What are the Acid Reflux Remedies?
Treatment for acid reflux consists of reducing or neutralizing the stomach acid. There are various medications available such as over the counter (OTC) medications that neutralize the acid and prescription medications, and some OTC drugs called H2 blockers, that reduce the amount of acid.
Certain lifestyle changes will help reduce the stomach irritation and painful acid reflux symptoms:
• Use acetaminophen for pain relief instead of aspirin or ibuprofen
• Drink plenty of water when taking any medications
• Don’t eat right before going to bed
• Eat smaller portions and eat slowly
• Avoid the foods that can trigger acid reflux
• Maintain a healthy weight
• Reduce or stop smoking
• Reduce or avoid alcohol
The GERD diet changes the way you eat so that you avoid the foods that contribute to acid reflux. Some foods such as fatty and oily foods cause the production of more stomach acid. Foods that contain caffeine and spicy foods may cause the sphincter muscle to relax and allow acid to escape the stomach.
The GERD diet is not a specific list of items because each person reacts differently to various food items. It should be tailored for your particular needs and medical condition. Your physician or nutritionist can help create the right GERD diet for you.
Surgery for GERD
In certain situations, surgery may need to be done around the esophagus, sphincter and stomach to prevent the acid reflux. Many other treatment options should be tried before resorting to surgery, due to the potential risks involved. For some people, surgery is the only treatment to reduce the pain and allow them to have a normal life.
Acid Reflux Doesn’t Have to Ruin Your Life
The majority of people with acid reflux are successful with over the counter or prescription medications and with some dietary changes. If your symptoms don’t go away after trying a few options, contact your physician for a check- up. Make sure you don’t have a more serious condition that will continue to get worse.
With a little help and discipline, you can still enjoy your favorite foods. Acid reflux is treatable and doesn’t have to be a pain in your gut!
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