Acid reflux occurs when stomach contents moves backward into the esophagus. It’s also called acid regurgitation or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). Acid reflux is a common digestive condition. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, 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. When symptoms that seem like heartburn persist, it could be a disease with more serious consequences. Chronic reflux can sometimes lead to difficulty swallowing and in some cases it can even cause breathing problems like asthma.
Acid reflux is caused when the muscle at the end of the esophagus, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is faulty or weak. 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 esophagus.
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)
Most people experience occasional acid reflux or GERD. However, in some cases the digestive condition is chronic.
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.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is a chronic digestive disease. It’s the more serious form of GERD 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
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 which increases the risk of esophageal cancer.
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