Acid reflux occurs when
stomach contents moves backward into the esophagus. It’s also called acid regurgitation or gastroesophageal reflux (GER). Acid
reflux is a common digestive condition. According to the American
College of Gastroenterology (ACG), more
than 60 million Americans experience acid reflux at least once a month. More
than 15 million Americans experience it every day.
Acid reflux usually causes a
burning sensation in the chest. The sensation radiates up from the stomach to
the mid-chest or throat. This is also known as heartburn.
Acid reflux may also cause a sour
taste in the back of the mouth. Chronic reflux can sometimes lead to difficulty
swallowing and in some cases it can even cause breathing problems like asthma.
The muscle at the end of the
esophagus is called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a one-way valve
that normally opens for limited amounts of time when you swallow. Acid reflux
occurs when the LES doesn’t close properly or tightly enough. A faulty or
weakened LES allows digestive juices and stomach contents to rise back up into the
Large meals that cause the
stomach to stretch a lot can temporarily loosen the LES. Other factors
associated with reflux include:
- hiatal hernia (when part of the stomach pushes
up through the diaphragm)
- consuming particular foods (particularly
carbonated beverages, coffee, and chocolate)
If you notice that your reflux
only occurs with certain foods, try eliminating them from your diet. Some
people also find that sitting up straight during and after eating improves
Most people experience occasional
acid reflux or GER. However, in some cases the digestive condition is chronic.
It’s considered gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) if it occurs more than
twice a week.
Acid reflux can affect infants
and children as well as adults. Children under 12 usually don’t experience
heartburn. Instead they have alternative symptoms like:
- trouble swallowing
- dry cough
- laryngitis (loss of voice)
These alternative symptoms can
also appear in adults.
Adults aren’t the only ones
affected by acid reflux. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), more than half of all babies experience infant acid
reflux during their first three months of life. It’s important for your
pediatrician to differentiate between normal reflux and GERD.
Spitting up and even vomiting is
normal and may not bother the baby. Other signs of normal reflux include:
- arching the back during or immediately
- poor feeding
These symptoms generally aren’t
harmful to the baby.
GERD in children can easily be
missed. Infant acid reflux usually goes away on its own around 12 to 18
months of age. If symptoms persist beyond 18 months of age or become severe,
talk to your child’s pediatrician. Your child’s symptoms may be a sign of GERD.
Serious symptoms include:
- a lack
of weight gain
Call your pediatrician immediately if your infant:
up green or brown fluid
trouble breathing after spitting up
To reduce reflux symptoms, your pediatrician may suggest:
the baby a few times during a feeding
more frequent, smaller meals
the baby upright for 30 minutes after eating
up to 1 tablespoon of rice cereal to 2 ounces of infant milk (if using a
your diet (if you are breast-feeding)
the type of formula
- certain over-the-counter or prescription
medicines to control symptoms
You also may be referred to a
pediatric gastroenterologist. Sometimes further testing is necessary.
Esophagitis is a general term for
inflammation of the esophagus. It can be accompanied by irritation.
Reflux esophagitis is a type of
esophagitis associated with GERD. It’s caused by stomach acid backing up into
the esophagus. This damages the esophageal tissues. It often causes heartburn, which
may become chronic.
Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD is a chronic digestive
disease. It affects people of all ages, including children. It’s the more
serious form of GER and can eventually cause more serious health problems if
left untreated. Acid reflux that occurs more than twice a week and causes
inflammation of the esophagus is considered to be GERD.
Most people with GERD experience
symptoms such as:
- trouble swallowing
- a feeling of excessive fullness
Consult your doctor if you have
symptoms, or use over-the-counter (OTC) antacids or reflux medications for more
than two weeks.
Living with acid reflux is
inconvenient. Fortunately, symptoms can generally be controlled through:
- stopping smoking
- reducing alcohol consumption
- eating less fat
- avoiding foods that set off attacks
- losing weight
- sleeping in different positions
- anti-reflux medication
Most people with reflux will not
have long-term health problems. However, GERD can increase the risk of Barrett’s esophagus. This is a permanent
change in the lining of the esophagus.
Barrett’s esophagus increases the
risk of esophageal cancer. However this type cancer is very rare, even in
people with Barrett’s esophagus. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), over a period of 10 years, only 10 out of 1,000 people
with Barrett’s will develop cancer. Nevertheless, patients with chronic,
unremitting GERD despite medical treatment are often referred for
endoscopy. In this procedure, a
specialist doctor will examine the lining of your esophagus using a specialized
instrument (endoscope), looking for changes of Barrett’s esophagus or cancer in
order to try and find the problems early enough to be able to offer you