Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease -GERD, or chronic acid reflux) is a condition in which acid-containing contents in your stomach persistently leak back up into your oesophagus, the tube from your throat to your stomach. Heart burn or Reflux occurs when the valve that keeps the contents of your stomach from flowing up into your oesophagus stops functioning. Reflux is not caused by stomach acid. It is a chronic condition caused by the esophageal valve not closing properly.

You want to keep the acid. Stomach acid is essential for effective digestion of the food you eat. And it helps you get the most nutrient and protein benefits from your food. It’s there for a reason.

Some reflux is totally ordinary and harmless, usually resulting in no symptoms. But when it happens too frequently, it burns the inside of the oesophagus.

Acid reflux happens because a valve at the end of your oesophagus, the lower oesophageal sphincter, doesn’t close properly when food arrives at your stomach. Acid backwash then flows back up through your oesophagus into your throat and mouth, giving you a sour taste.

Reflux gets worse over time. And your body pays the price.

There are three conditions which can increase acid reflux. These are:

  • poor movement of food or acid from the oesophagus
  • excess acid in the stomach
  • delayed stomach clearance

Symptoms of GERD

The most common symptom of acid reflux is called heartburn, which is a painful, burning feeling in the throat or chest.
Out of the people who frequently get heartburn, 20-40% are detected with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.
Along with heartburn, common symptoms of reflux include of an acidic taste at the back of the mouth and difficulty in swallowing. Other symptoms are tooth erosion, cough, asthma, and irritation in the sinuses.

Different people are affected in different ways by GERD. The most common symptoms are:

  • Heartburn.
  • Regurgitation (food comes back into your mouth from the esophagus).
  • The feeling of food caught in your throat.
  • Coughing.
  • Chest pain.
  • Problem swallowing.
  • Vomiting.
  • Sore throat and hoarseness.

There are three conditions which can increase acid reflux. These are:

  • poor movement of food or acid from the oesophagus
  • excess acid in the stomach
  • delayed stomach clearance

What are the causes of acidity?

Some causes of acidity are

  • Excessive smoking or drinking/ Overindulgence
  • Irregular work hours and Less or no exercise
  • Being overweight
  • Stress or certain medications

Some medical conditions may also be the reason. Consult your doctor if you think this is the reason for your acidity symptoms.
How do I know I’m having heartburn and not a heart attack?

Chest pain caused by heartburn may make you afraid you’re having a heart attack. Heartburn has nothing to do with your heart, but since the discomfort is in your chest it may be hard to know the difference while it’s going on. But symptoms of a heart attack are different than heartburn.

Heartburn is that uncomfortable burning feeling or pain in your chest that can move up to your neck and throat. A heart attack can cause pain in the arms, neck and jaw, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, dizziness, extreme fatigue and anxiety, among other symptoms.

If your heartburn medication doesn’t help and your chest pain is accompanied by these symptoms, call for medical attention right away.

How do I prevent symptoms of GERD (chronic acid reflux)?

Making simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in reducing the risk of acidity.

1. Eat slowly and carefully

When the stomach is full, there is a chance of experiencing more acid reflux in the oesophagus. If you have enough time in your schedule, you should inculcate a habit called “grazing”, which is consuming small meals more regularly instead of three large meals daily.

2. Avoid specific foods

People with acid reflux were once advised to omit all but the blandest foods from their food intake. But that’s no longer required. Nowadays, food has evolved further to complement our changing lifestyles. However, there are still some foods that trigger reflux more than other foods, such as mint, spicy foods, fatty foods, tomatoes, garlic, onions, coffee, chocolate, tea, and alcohol. If you consume any of these foods frequently, you can try avoiding them to see if doing so reduces your reflux, and then try including them back one by one gradually.

3. Avoid drinking carbonated beverages

Carbonated drinks make you burp, which leaks acid into the oesophagus. Try drinking flat water rather than sparkling water.

4. Don’t sleep right after you eat

When you are standing idle, or even sitting, gravity alone keeps acid in the stomach, where it should be. Try eating three hours before you go to bed. This means – no naps after lunch and no late dinners or midnight snacking

5. Sleep the right way

Preferably, your head should always be 6 to 8 inches higher than your feet. You can achieve this position by putting bed risers supporting the head of your bed. If your partner does not like this change, try using a foam wedge support for your upper body. Don’t try to build a wedge by just stacking pillows. They would not provide the support you need. Also, sleep on your left side to reduce the acid reflux.

6. Lose weight if required

Excess weight spreads the muscles that helps lower the oesophageal sphincter, decreasing the pressure that closes the sphincter. This results in acid reflux and heartburn.

7. Quit smoking

You should stop smoking because nicotine can relax the lower oesophageal sphincter

What foods should I avoid if I have GERD (chronic acid reflux)?

Adjusting your diet and eating habits play a key role in controlling the symptoms of GERD. Try to avoid the trigger foods that keep giving you heartburn.

For example, many people get heartburn from:

  • Spicy foods.
  • Fried foods.
  • Fatty (including dairy) foods.
  • Chocolate.
  • Tomato sauces.
  • Garlic and onions.
  • Alcohol, coffee and carbonated drinks.
  • Citrus fruits.

What is the outlook for GERD (chronic acid reflux)?

You can control the symptoms of GERD. If you adjust your eating and sleeping habits and take medications when needed, you should be able to get your GERD symptoms to a manageable level.

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