Acid reflux, sometimes known as GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease), is an annoying and sometimes painful condition that occurs when acid and other materials in the stomach back up–reflux–into your esophagus. The esophagus is the muscular tube that leads from your throat to your stomach.
Most times during acid reflux, the materials from the stomach remain in the lower part of the esophagus, where they can cause heartburn and nausea. Over time, they can also cause damage to the esophagus.
Occasionally, the stomach materials will back up all the way into your mouth. When this happens, the acid will cause a burning sensation in your throat, and you may even find small, undigested pieces of food in your mouth.
What Causes Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux is usually blamed on a defective lower esophageal sphincter. The esophageal sphincter is a tough rim of muscle that surrounds the lower end of the esophagus. When food is eaten, the sphincter contracts strongly to push the food into the stomach.
Acid reflux occurs when the sphincter is not strong enough to force the food into the stomach, or when the sphincter does not push and simply relaxes, allowing food and chemicals in the stomach to rush back into the esophagus.
Other culprits associated with acid reflux include a hiatal hernia and a “weak” or “slow” esophagus that doesn’t contract strongly enough to move the food to the stomach in a timely manner.
How Is Acid Reflux Treated?
Doctors usually suggest lifestyle changes first. These changes might include eating smaller meals, losing excess weight, abstaining from alcohol and cigarettes, staying up and active for at least a couple of hours after meals, and sleeping with your head elevated.
In addition, there are over-the-counter medications available to ease symptoms. Some, like Pepcid and Zantac are called Histamine Receptor Antagonists. They work by decreasing the amount of acid in the stomach. Other medicines, like Mylanta and Tagamet, work to neutralize acid.
Finally, if there is still no relief from symptoms, doctors may prescribe proton pump inhibitors such as Nexium and Prevacid. These medicines prevent the release of acid into the stomach and intestines. Finally, promotility agents, such as Reglan, may be used to force the esophagus to empty more quickly and to speed digestion.
If you are experiencing acid reflux, talk to your doctor to determine which treatment options are best for you.