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The 411 on Acid Reflux: Signs, Causes, and Treatment Options

Man suffering from acid reflux
Acid reflux is characterized by stomach acids flowing back up into your food pipe and causing a burning sensation in the throat. This condition can be painful and debilitating. Also known as heartburn or acid indigestion, acid reflux affects an estimated 60 million Americans at least once per month, while an estimated 15 million Americans suffer from acid reflux each day.

Even though it is incredibly common, most people are not familiar with the signs, causes, and treatment options for this disorder. With this guide and your gastroenterologist, you will have a better understanding of acid reflux.

Signs

Heartburn is the most common symptom of acid reflux. As a matter of fact, most people will notice the actual heartburn before they notice the acid building up in the back of their throat.

As the acid builds up in the esophagus, it causes a burning sensation in the throat. This burning is a classic sign of heartburn. Of course, the burning and acid buildup can be so severe, you may experience actual chest pain as well.

In some instances, heartburn, and the chest pain associated with it, is often mistaken for a heart attack. 

Acid reflux will leave a bad, bitter taste in your mouth. Over time, the acids can irritate your throat and mouth too. This irritation can affect your voice, causing hoarseness when you speak, but it can also cause you to cough and wheeze at times.

Many patients also develop asthma due to the irritated throat and constant coughing related to the acid buildup.

Causes

One of the most common causes of acid reflux disease is a hiatal hernia.

A hiatal hernia is a condition where the upper part of your stomach protrudes through the esophageal hiatus, or the small hole in your diaphragm. This hernia increases the risk of stomach acid moving up into the esophagus, causing the acid reflux and painful heartburn.

Heartburn and acid reflux are the most common signs of a hiatal hernia, but many people live with the condition without experiencing any signs or symptoms.

Many doctors believe acid reflux is caused by various factors in your life. For example, certain foods and beverages can increase your risk of acid reflux.

If you consume a lot of the following, you will have a higher risk of developing acid reflux:
  • Salty foods
  • Caffeinated beverages, such as coffee, tea, and soda
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Acidic juices
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Chocolate
  • Fried foods
  • Tomato sauce/tomato products
Reducing your intake of these foods and beverages can help. However, you should be aware of other risk factors as well.
Being overweight or pregnant also increases your risk of acid reflux. If you smoke cigarettes or use tobacco products, you may also develop the condition. Finally, certain medications, such as asthma medicine, antidepressants, and antihistamines, are known to cause acid reflux.

Treatment

The most effective treatment of acid reflux will depend on its cause, which can be different for everyone. 

If your reflux is caused by a hiatal hernia, a surgical procedure known as fundoplication will be recommended.

During this procedure, the actual hernia is repaired by tightening the opening in your diaphragm, which prevents your stomach from protruding further.

Your surgeon will then wrap the upper portion of the stomach around the end of the esophagus. This prevents stomach acids from moving up into your esophagus, reducing any risk of acid reflux and heartburn. 

If your reflux is not caused by a hernia, medications and lifestyle changes can help treat your condition. 

Prescription medications that decrease the stomach's production of acids while protecting your digestive system from the damage and irritation caused by acid reflux may be recommended.

Changing your diet is also smart if you want to prevent acid reflux and discomfort. Reduce your intake of caffeinated, alcoholic, and carbonated beverages and salty or fried foods.
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You do not have to live with the discomfort of acid reflux any further. To learn more about diagnosing and treating this common condition, contact Digestive Disease Consultants today.