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Everything You Need to Know About Acid Reflux

Dec 02, 2021 Acid Reflux

Do you suffer from acid reflux? Do you know somebody who suffers from acid reflux, and want to understand it better? 

This guide will go deep into the details of acid reflux, which can be very unpleasant for those who have it. We will explore the symptoms, causes and treatments. So you can make informed decisions around your treatment and care. We will cover; 

  • What Acid reflux is 
  • Symptoms 
  • Triggers and Causes
  • Treatments

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What is acid reflux? 

Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid travels to travel back up from the stomach towards the mouth. This causes a burning sensation in the chest, a sour taste in the mouth and a burning sensation on the tongue.

Heartburn or acid reflux is often associated with overindulgence or pregnancy, but there are various other reasons why somebody might suffer from acid reflux. 

For those who experience it, acid reflux will not occur all the time but usually in response to certain triggers. 

Treatments are recommended in the following order:

  • Lifestyle changes to avoid triggers should provide acid reflux relief. This is the most natural way to treat this condition. 
  • Over the counter, antacids to relieve symptoms for a short time.
  • PPI (Proton Pump Inhibitors) medication for more severe cases. Find out more about PPIs below. 

Difference Between Acid Reflux, Indigestion, Heartburn? 

Indigestion, heartburn and acid reflux are all used to describe a burning sensation in the chest. Indigestion and heartburn are just two symptoms of acid reflux but are not the only symptoms.

Difference between Acid Reflux and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD or GORD)?

The condition that causes acid reflux is gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD or GORD).  describe 

All Acid Reflux Symptoms 

The typical symptoms of acid reflux are:

  • A burning sensation in the chest and on the tongue
  • Taste changes and/or bitter taste in the mouth
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Bad breath
  • Hacking cough

Find more details on each of these below:

Burning Sensation In Your Chest 

Stomach acid is pretty potent and when it travels up your digestive tract it causes inflammation and irritation. The burning sensation in your chest is caused by the muscles in your oesophagus opening and allowing digestive juices to escape. Generally, acid reflux occurs after eating and can make a slap-up meal a very unpleasant experience indeed.

Chest Pain

The chest pain encountered when suffering acid reflux can sometimes be so intense that it can be mistaken for a heart attack. It is therefore important that you seek medical advice immediately to confirm that you are not suffering from a cardiac episode.

Dysphagia  (Difficulty Swallowing) 

Sometimes inflammation caused by acid reflux can make Swallowing difficult and make you feel as if you have a lump in your throat. Being unable to swallow is actually quite scary and needs to be addressed if the problem persists.

Hacking Cough 

Acid reflux can irritate the lungs causing them to become inflamed.  This causes asthma type symptoms and the desire to cough the irritation away. If you find yourself coughing and neither have a cold or asthma, acid reflux may be the cause.

Bitter Taste In Your Mouth

Sometimes stomach acid actually reaches your mouth and tastes extremely bitter. It is not only very unpleasant it could also damage the enamel on your teeth. In extreme cases, you may feel nauseous and even vomit due to the influx of stomach acid.

Extreme Symptoms 

Extreme symptoms include vomiting which damages the oesophagus and rots teeth. Frequent sickness prevents nutrients from being absorbed by the body resulting in low blood sugar levels.  Dizziness and headaches are symptoms of low sugar and in extreme cases cause fainting. Acid reflux treatments may result in feeling lightheaded and headaches if this is the case you must see your doctor. Migraine symptoms include; upset stomach, vomiting, dizziness and headaches.

What Triggers Acid Reflux?

How Your Diet and Lifestyle Affects Acid Reflux

Food and drink are often the main triggers although some medicines also cause symptoms.

These are the foods to avoid if you suffer from acid reflux: 

  • dairy products
  • chocolate
  • fatty foods
  • caffeine
  • spicy food
  • greasy food
  • citrus
  • strawberries 

Other than eating specific foods, other acid reflux triggers include (but are not limited to):

  • eating late at night 
  • lying down after a meal
  • bending over
  • stress
  • nicotine from cigarettes
  • use of anti-inflammatories or muscle relaxants
  • use of an inhaler (which can relax your muscles)

What are the Causes of Acid Reflux? What are the causes of GERD?  

The condition that causes acid reflux is gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD or GORD). This is when acid from the stomach is allowed to travel up to the throat. The reason is usually a weak band of muscle between the stomach and the oesophagus. This is the reason the above triggers cause acid reflux in some people rather than everyone.

Conditions that cause GERD include Lower Esophageal Sphincter failure and Hiatus Hernia.

Is Acid Reflux A Sign of Other Illnesses

Acid reflux may or may not be a symptom of another condition. 

For example, cyclic vomiting syndrome (CVS) is a condition that causes the sufferer to vomit in cycles.  The cause of the illness is unknown but the symptoms are very debilitating.  Doctors treat the symptoms which include; nausea, acid reflux and vomiting. CVS is more common in children than adults although people of all ages can have it.

Underlying health conditions like diabetes can cause acid reflux.

Persistent acid reflux could also be caused by a stomach ulcer. 

Often GERD symptoms can mimic those of a heart attack so if you have chest pain you should seek medical advice.

Can Acid Reflux Lead to Other Conditions? 

Stomach acid is a corrosive liquid that causes damage to the oesophagus sometimes causing Barrett's oesophagus.  This is a precursor to cancer because the cells change and become cancerous. 

It is therefore important to consult your doctor if you experience frequent acid reflux to make sure there is no damage.

Could My Symptoms Be Something Other Than Acid Reflux?

Sometimes your stomach digests food too slowly causing stomach contents to go back to your throat. Also, if you have difficulty swallowing you may get a build-up of food that causes similar symptoms.

This is worth knowing because the usual acid reflux treatments including PPIs (see below) will not be effective if your similar issue is actually something else.  

Lifestyle Factors That Affect Acid Reflux 

Acid reflux and GERD can be harder to manage at night. GERD can occur at any time during the day or night.  If you suffer during the day it is much easier to manage. This is because you are more mobile and can treat the symptoms immediately.  

At night you are lying horizontal making it much more difficult to manage.  Sufferers either find it difficult to sleep due to acid reflux or wake with a bitter taste and stomach acid in their mouths. People with acid reflux suffer sleep disturbance because the acid travels back to their mouth while they are sleeping. The pain and the overwhelming need to vomit causes them to wake up. 

Studies have found that the length of time it takes to fall asleep has a great impact on symptoms.  If you lie awake for a long time before sleeping you are more likely to suffer from GERD.

Sleep is very important in terms of health and well-being.  A good night’s sleep results in life being better in general.  Gerd sufferers often encounter restless nights and wake up numerous times.  Ironically lack of sleep can exacerbate GERD symptoms while the condition makes shut eye more difficult.  

A good bedtime routine is essential to combat the effects of the condition at night.  Avoid eating before bedtime, relax, make sure your bedroom is tidy and relaxing.  You may find that plumping up your pillows will help by keeping your body propped up while you are in bed.  If you are still awake after 20 minutes of going to bed - get up and wait until you feel tired.

Did you know that acid reflux gets worse at Christmas?

The combination of rich food and copious amounts of alcohol plays havoc with our digestive systems.

Christmas celebrations provide many triggers including eating and drinking lots of rich food and slouching in chairs watching television.  Our normally healthy lifestyle becomes chaotic and spontaneous causing our digestive systems to get into a frenzy. 

Avoiding acid reflux triggers and ensuring that you have enough treatment to last the Christmas break will help to ease your symptoms.

What treatments are available for acid reflux?

Initial Treatments 

Acid reflux can be managed by making lifestyle changes. For instance: avoid chocolate, alcohol and caffeine, overeating, food and drink up to three hours before bedtime.

Furthermore, eating slowly, avoiding stress, having plenty of rest, frequent exercise and drinking plenty of water can relieve the burning sensation.

If you still experience symptoms over-the-counter antacids may help.

If these initial treatments are not sufficient, a group of medicines called “proton pump inhibitors” may be prescribed which reduces the amount of acid produced in the stomach.  

What Are Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs)

The prescribed treatments for acid reflux include Omeprazole, Lansoprazole, Esomeprazole and Losec

These medicines are known as Proton Pump Inhibitors and they relieve symptoms by reducing the production of acid in the stomach.  Symptoms usually desist after a few days and the capsule is effective for twenty-four hours. 

These treatments are very effective so if they do not resolve your symptoms chances are that you haven’t got the condition after all.

Side Effects of Proton Pump Inhibitors 

There are side effects such as; a headache, dizziness and diarrhoea but most people benefit from taking the medication. There are concerns about taking proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) for longer than a year because they may affect bone density and mineral levels in the body.

If you want to find out more about whether acid reflux medications are bad for you, you can learn more here

What if PPIs don’t work? 

If the GORD diagnosis is correct then proton pump inhibitors will almost certainly ease your symptoms. If there is no change in the severity of your acid reflux then your condition will be investigated. Your stomach acid will be tested to see if it is acidic enough for the PPI’s to be effective. Also, you will have an appointment to have an endoscopy which is a camera that enters your digestive system through your mouth. This will enable doctors to see what may be causing your acid reflux and identify cancer. The doctor will have a clearer picture of your condition and can start treating it. 

It is important that you make lifestyle changes (as explained in the earlier section) to reduce the chances of acid reflux occurring and reduce the need for Proton Pump Inhibitors. 

Persistent acid reflux requires medical intervention and exploration using a camera in the stomach (endoscopy). This determines if the cause is a stomach ulcer that displaces

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