Acid reflux is a very common problem that can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Millions of people suffer from acid reflux, but most don’t realize they do because it usually doesn’t cause any symptoms.
Likewise, there are just as many who suffer from the multiple symptoms of acid reflux and know-how that causes discomfort within their lives.
The causes of acid reflux are many and varied, but the most effective way to prevent it is by eliminating or reducing the number of foods you eat that can trigger this condition.
Causes of acid reflux
Most people suffer from acid reflux at least once, and some experience it on a daily basis. You know you have acid reflux if your food begins to come back up after swallowing it. This causes the painful sensation of heartburn, nausea, vomiting, indigestion, or regurgitation. The best way to avoid acid reflux is to avoid the foods that cause it.
Acid reflux is caused by the stomach’s contents coming back up into your esophagus. It can be triggered by:
- eating spicy foods
- eating late at night
- smoking cigarettes
- consuming alcohol
According to the National Institute of Health, “approximately 60 million Americans experience acid reflux at least once a month.” and according to the NHS, about 3-5% of women and 10% of men in the UK experience acid reflux.
How does acid reflux affect you?
Acid reflux is a condition in which the stomach’s contents flow back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn and other symptoms.
It occurs when stomach acid flows backward out of the stomach due to muscle spasms or decreased lower esophageal sphincter (LES) pressure. Acid reflux usually results from lifestyle habits such as eating large meals, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, wearing tight clothing that compresses the abdomen, sleeping with your head elevated above your body, or taking certain medications.
You are more likely to have an episode if you eat too much at one time; overeat throughout the day; drink carbonated beverages; smoke cigarettes; consume alcohol before bedtime or lie down after dinner. Lifestyle modifications can help to keep symptoms in check while you work with your doctor to treat the underlying cause of the problem.
Acid reflux symptoms
Symptoms can result from regurgitation as well as heartburn, so there are many possible symptoms of acid reflux. Symptoms may vary by person, and some people have no symptoms at all.
Sometimes symptoms of acid reflux may mimic the symptoms of other conditions, such as a heart attack (angina). People with angina experience chest pain that occurs when their heart doesn’t receive enough oxygen-carrying blood. The pain is usually caused by exertion or stress and is relieved by rest or medication. The pain of a heart attack usually lasts more than 15 minutes and may radiate to the arm, shoulder, jaws, or back.
The most common symptom of acid reflux is heartburn—a burning sensation in your chest or throat. Sometimes people with acid reflux will experience nausea, vomiting, indigestion, or regurgitation as well. Acid-reflux sufferers often notice symptoms after meals and when lying down after eating; the symptoms are often worse when they eat spicy foods, sit for long periods of time, or consume fatty foods.
Smoking and drinking
Smoking and drinking alcohol may also cause acid reflux because they relax the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is a muscle that prevents stomach acids from coming up into the esophagus.
Stress or emotional disorders
Stress or emotional disorders have been linked to symptoms of acid reflux, but it’s not clear if stress triggers symptoms or vice versa. In one study, people who had recurrent symptoms of heartburn and regurgitation were more likely to report stress and more stressed out than those who didn’t have symptoms.
What tests will the doctor perform?
Diagnosis is usually by complete health history and physical exam performed by your doctor, which may include an upper abdominal pain scale to measure the severity of the pain. Your medical history includes questions about current or past symptoms, including their duration, frequency, and intensity as well as other medical conditions with which you have been diagnosed.
In some cases, your doctor may suspect acid reflux is causing health problems and may recommend diagnostic tests to help confirm the diagnosis or determine a cause of related complications.
The following tests are commonly used to diagnose acid reflux:
- Your liquid stool is tested for an h pylori infection by inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera through your mouth or nose and down your throat into the stomach. The tube is attached to a monitor that sends pictures of the inside of your stomach to the monitor. If h pylori are present, you will likely need antibiotics along with acid-suppressing drugs if you choose to treat the infection.
- Your doctor takes a biopsy of your esophagus by inserting thin, flexible tubes through your mouth and down into your esophagus. The thin, flexible tubes are attached to small cameras that send pictures of your esophagus to monitors in the room. Your throat will be numbed while this test is performed. You may be asked to swallow small sponges or remove your saliva for several minutes. If h pylori are present, you will likely need antibiotics along with acid-suppressing drugs if you choose to treat the infection.
- An x-ray of your esophagus uses a contrast material that outlines the contours of your esophagus. X-rays are useful in detecting h pylori infections.
Acid reflux studies
There are a few studies that show how probiotics may help people with acid reflux symptoms. A study from 2016 showed that, of the participants who took probiotics, 66% reported having improved symptoms.
A study from 2017 showed that probiotics were effective in reducing acid reflux symptoms in both children and adults.
It is not uncommon for people to suffer from acid reflux, which can cause a variety of symptoms that range from mild discomfort to severe pain.
Taking probiotics to help ease the symptoms of acid reflux has been proven in several studies. As with all forms of medication, it is advisable to talk to your doctor first.
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