Acid reflux brings pain and discomfort to an otherwise enjoyable activity, such as eating. Termed gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, reflux is a chronic digestive condition in which acids in your stomach flow backwards up your throat, causing a burning sensation beneath your breastbone.
Causes & Symptoms of GERD
When you eat, the sphincter valve on your esophagus opens and closes, allowing food and liquids to pass from your throat to your stomach. When reflux occurs, this valve fails to close completely, and hydrochloric acids produced during the digestive process flow into your throat and esophagus, producing painful symptoms. The most pronounced is heartburn, or acid indigestion; this is a burning sensation that radiates from the stomach outwards to the abdomen and sternum. Other symptoms include regurgitation, dyspepsia, a sour taste in the mouth, belching, bloating, coughing, wheezing, hoarseness, and nausea.
GERD can be caused by a variety of factors. Hiatal hernia – a condition in which the sphincter valve and upper portion of the stomach move around above the diaphragm – is the most common trigger. Reflux occurs most often immediately following a meal, when you are lying down, or bending over. Risk factors include eating spicy, fatty, or fried foods, or those containing citrus, tomato, chocolate, mint, onions, and garlic; drinking beverages that contain alcohol, caffeine, or carbonation; eating close to bedtime, or lying down following a meal; obesity; smoking; and pregnancy.
Treatment & Prevention
Your doctor will give you a physical exam and ask questions about your symptoms in order to gauge the severity of your reflux. If the pain has persisted for longer than a month, you may be referred to a gastroenterologist for additional testing.
Avoiding the triggers that cause GERD is the most effective way of preventing it from occurring. Avoid foods and beverages that cause acid reflux, eat smaller meals, and resist late-night snacks. Quit smoking, and lose excess weight.