You might not be familiar with the term, but you’ve probably experienced the symptoms. Acid reflux is when stomach acid passes through the valve that separates your stomach and esophagus. The valve is the lower esophagael sphincter (LES), and the symptoms can be annoying and painful.
You know that feeling, when after a meal, you throw up a little, with a foul, sour taste in your mouth? That’s acid reflux. Or when you swallow something and it feels like it’s stuck in your throat (when it isn’t)? Acid reflux. If you experience these symptoms at least twice a week, you’ve got acid reflux disease.
By definition, stomach acid is supposed to stay in your stomach. When it breaches the LES, stomach acid enters the esophagus and can cause symptoms including:
- heartburn (a burning sensation in the stomach and chest)
- dysphagia (the sensation of food stuck in your throat)
- bloody or black stools
- ongoing hiccups
While not dangerous, acid reflux disease can be an ongoing issue for those it affects, and the symptoms of acid reflux can be painful and cause embarrassment. What causes acid reflux? A combination of factors, one of the most common of which is a stomach abnormality, hiatal hernia, in which the LES and upper region of the stomach shift above the diaphragm.
Most of the other factors that cause acid reflux disease are related to diet and lifestyle. They include:
- obesity and being overweight
- eating large meals
- lying down after a meal
- snacking close to bedtime
- some beverages, including alcohol and carbonated drinks
Acid reflux disease is not a life-threatening issue, but it’s worth mentioning to your doctor, especially if your symptoms are painful. Generally speaking, there are three ways to reduce acid reflux symptoms: diet and lifestyle changes, over-the-counter and prescription medications, and (as a last resort) surgery.
How to Prevent Acid Reflux
Considering that diet and lifestyle habits are the most common causes of acid reflux disease, very often a change in diet and simple habits can reduce symptoms.
Of great importance is to maintain a healthy weight. Aim for a body mass index (BMI) between 20 and 25, with regular exercise and diet changes. Eat smaller meals throughout the day, and avoid large meals.
Don’t lay down after a meal either. Give yourself at least two hours between your last meal and your bed time. Avoid tight clothes or belts. And don’t smoke.
In addition, your doctor may recommend a variety of gastro-intestinal treatments, or antacids, including Alka-Seltzer, Maalox and Rolaids. These are over-the-counter treatments, and more often than not, can control symptoms of acid reflux.
Failing that, prescription medications, which may include foaming agents, H2 blockers and Prokinetics, are a step up from drugstore remedies. But remember not to combine drugstore and/or prescription treatments without consulting your doctor.
As a last resort, a fundoplication is a surgical procedure in which surgeons wrap the upper part of the stomach around the LES, creating an artificial valve between the stomach and esophagus.
But surgery is your last option to control acid reflux. With healthy weight, smaller meals and enough time between food and sleep, you’ll probably find that acid reflux symptoms are within your control. Commit to these changes, and you might even find yourself symptom-free.