Acid reflux, also called gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a condition where the stomach contents (food or liquid) rise up from the stomach into the oesophagus, a tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach.
Normally the stomach contents do not enter the oesophagus due to constricted LES. But in patients with acid reflux stomach content travels back into the oesophagus because of a weak or relaxed lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Lower esophageal sphincter is a ring of muscle fibers that surrounds the lower-most end of the esophagus where it joins the stomach. LES acts like a valve between the esophagus and stomach preventing food from moving backward into the esophagus.
Heartburn is usually the main symptom; a burning-type pain in the lower part of the mid-chest, behind the breast bone. Other symptoms such as a bitter or sour taste in the mouth, trouble in swallowing, nausea, dry cough or wheezing, regurgitation of food (bringing food back up into the mouth), hoarseness or change in voice, and chest pain may be experienced.
The exact cause of what weakens or relaxes the LES in GERD is not known, however certain factors including obesity, smoking, pregnancy, and possibly alcohol may contribute to GERD. Common foods that can worsen reflux symptoms include spicy foods, onions, chocolates, caffeine containing drinks, mint flavorings, tomato based foods and citrus fruits. Certain medications can also worsen the reflux.
There are several tests that can be performed to diagnose acid reflux and they include:
Antacids are over-the-counter medicines that provide temporarily relief to heartburn or indigestion by neutralizing acid in the stomach. Other medications such as proton pump inhibitors and H2 antagonists may be prescribed to reduce the production of acid in the stomach.
Surgery may be an option for patients whose symptoms do not go away with the medications.
Chronic GERD left untreated can cause serious complications such as inflammation of the esophagus, esophageal ulcer, narrowing of the esophagus, chronic cough, and reflux of liquid into the lungs (pulmonary aspiration). Some people develop Barrett’s esophagus, in which there is changes in the esophageal lining that can lead to esophageal cancer.
General measures the patient can take to reduce reflux are: