Nearly three out of every ten individuals will experience symptoms of heartburn periodically. So, determining when heartburn should be termed acid reflux disease is somewhat discretionary. In any case, though, knowing what symptoms to anticipate as well as treatment options and the typical degree of onset can help you better manage your digestive health and avoid more progressive consequences as much as possible.
What Is Acid Reflux?
Alternatively known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid reflux is a disease in which the lining of your esophagus becomes chronically irritated due to stomach acid. In many cases the condition is simply annoying; however, in some cases, serious consequences, such as esophagitis and Barrett’s esophagus can occur. Each of these conditions can increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer.
While individuals often experience the condition differently or to varying degrees, there are a number of symptoms that are common among individuals affected by the disease. Many acid reflux sufferers report experiencing pain or difficulty swallowing, bad breath, frequent burping, heartburn, chest pain, hoarseness, sore throat, cough, and even regurgitation.
Acid reflux occurs due to the improper function of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is located at the entrance of your stomach and is a ring muscle or valve that typically closes as soon as food passes through it. If it does not close completely or opens too frequently, the acid in your stomach can migrate up into your esophagus. This is typically when acid reflux symptoms such as burning chest pain or heartburn occur.
The exact cause of acid reflux varies, yet one common cause of the disease is a hiatal hernia – a stomach abnormality in which the upper part of the stomach and LES become positioned above your diaphragm. Another consideration is Helicobacter Pylori (H Pylori). This stomach bacteria may cause excess acidity leading to reflux. that Other risk factors for the condition include eating large meals, lying down immediately after eating, being overweight, snacking close to bedtime, eating or drinking certain foods or beverages, smoking, being pregnant, and taking certain medications.
Is Emergency Care Necessary?
Mild indigestion typically responds to minimal treatment, such as taking an antacid; however, if your acid reflux symptoms do not respond to minimal measures or present in one of the following manners, it’s important to seek prompt medical attention. The most common symptoms are the following ones:
- Chest pain.
- Symptoms of shock.
- Abdominal cramping.
- Difficulty swallowing.
- Pain when eating.
- Chronic coughing.
- Shifting pain in the stomach or abdomen.
- Uncontrollable weight loss.
How Is Acid Reflux Diagnosed?
If you exhibit the classic acid reflux symptoms, such as chronic heartburn and regurgitation, without any additional complications, it may be easy for your doctor to make a diagnosis. In some cases, however, you doctor will need to conduct a further series of evaluations to determine if acid reflux is the primary cause of your symptoms.
The three most common tests used to diagnose GERD are esophageal pH monitoring, endoscopy, and manometry. With pH monitoring, your doctor will monitor the amount of acid in your esophagus for a period of 24 to 48 hours to rule out GERD if your symptoms are not typical or to determine if you may require surgery as treatment.
Ultrasound may be used. When pushing the ultrasound probe on the lower end of the stomach (pylorus), the sharp pain elicited indicates an acid-mediated etiology.
Endoscopy involves your doctor examining the esophagus and stomach entrance using a flexible tube to look for inflammation, narrowing, and signs of Barrett’s esophagus. Specialists use manometry to identify issues with motility and valve pressure in the esophagus. This study measures the function of the LES and can help determine if GERD surgery is required.
How Is Acid Reflux Treated?
Treatment of GERD depends largely on the severity of your condition. If you acid reflux symptoms are occasional, you doctor will likely suggest treatment with antacids. However, if your symptoms persist or progress, medication or more aggressive treatment may be prescribed.
In addition to antacid use, lifestyle changes are another common line of defense. You may be able to effectively manage your acid reflux symptoms by reducing your intake of acidic foods, making sure to wait at least an hour or more before laying down after eating, and even losing weight.
If lifestyle changes do not effectively treat your condition, however, your doctor may prescribe medication or other treatments. Typically GERD that is at least as frequent as twice weekly requires a prescription medication for management. You would take this medication daily rather than just when you experience symptoms.
Furthermore, if lifestyle changes and prescription medication do not work, you may need GERD surgery. This surgery serves to repair the function of the LES. Also, it restricts the flow of acid from your stomach to your esophagus.
Some individuals report treating heartburn and other symptoms effectively with alternative treatments; however, their efficacy is somewhat debatable. Some of the commonly suggested alternative remedies include licorice, peppermint, milk thistle, chamomile, and caraway.
How Long Does Acid Reflux Last?
The severity of your reflux typically plays an important role in its duration. Some individuals experience acid reflux symptoms no more frequently than 2 or 3 times a month. Still, others struggle with reflux multiple times a week. Likewise, symptoms may last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. It depends on your digestive system and the extent to which your LES is impaired.
Severe heartburn – that which occurs every day and causes additional problems – may be a sign that there are more severe underlying issues, such as severe inflammation of the esophagus or cancer of the stomach or esophagus. This is why early identification and treatment is important.
Summing It Up
Acid reflux is a common disease that impacts the esophagus and adjoining components of the digestive system. Some cases of reflux are minor, it is a disease that can progress and cause additional damage if left untreated. Common acid reflux symptoms include burning or tightness in the chest, trouble swallowing, excessive burping, nausea, and bloating.
The causes of reflux vary, hiatal hernia, overeating, pregnancy, smoking, and certain medications may contribute to the progression of symptoms. Minor cases of reflux or heartburn are not typically serious; however, progressive issues may cause damage to the esophagus and even contribute to the development of cancer. If you suspect you may have acid reflex, you should consult your doctor and seek treatment.