Acid Reflux Disease

What Causes Acid Reflux?

Food’s entry into the stomach is regulated by a ring of muscle known as the lower esophageal sphincter or LES. If this muscles weakens or is displaced, it becomes less capable of keeping stomach contents out of the throat, where there is less protection against the acidic nature of the body’s digestive process.

A primary cause of displacement is a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper portion of the stomach distends through the stomach opening, coming into close contact with the esophagus.

I’ve Got Acid Reflux. What Can I Eat?

If you’ve got acid reflux, when it comes to diet, you’ve also got options. There are a number of healthy foods that can reduce the likelihood of heartburn or an acid attack:

  • Vegetables, including broccoli, green beans, asparagus, and cauliflower
  • Ginger
  • Oatmeal, whole-grain breads, and whole-grain rice
  • Non-citrus fruits, such as apples, bananas, and pears
  • Lean meats, including turkey, chicken, fish, and other seafoods
  • Egg whites
  • Healthy fats, like those in walnuts, flaxseeds, olive oil, sesame oil, and avocados.

Foods to avoid include chocolate, unhealthy fat items, citrus fruits, tomatoes, caffeine, spicy dishes, and chewing gum and breath mints.

Who Is at Risk for Acid Reflux Disease?

There are several risk factors associated with a higher incidence of acid reflux disease. These include being overweight, using tobacco products, being physically inactive, and taking medications for asthma, depression, insomnia, allergies, chronic pain, and hypertension or high blood pressure. Pregnant women also experience higher levels of heartburn and acid reflux disease.

How Is Acid Reflux Diagnosed?

Based on symptoms, acid reflux is relatively easy to diagnose. In some cases, your physician might run additional tests, such as heart attack, pneumonia, or pulmonary embolus. These could include:

  • Endoscopy: investigation of the esophagus and upper stomach using medical-imaging technology.
  • Barium swallow: a liquid for coating the upper GI to improve imaging results
  • pH monitoring: a test for acid levels in the upper GI
  • Biopsy: collection of tissue samples for lab analysis.

There are also tests for measuring pressure and fluid movement along the esophagus.

How Is Acid Reflux Treated?

There are several types of medications that can be used to treat acid reflux and GERD. These include:

  • Proton pump inhibitors or PPIs: PPIs decrease the stomach’s acid production
  • H2 blockers: H2 blockers are a second means of curtailing stomach acid
  • Alginate drugs: alginate drugs create a chemical barrier between the stomach’s contents and the esophagus
  • Over-the-counter antacids: acid reducers are ideal for persons with infrequent heartburn.

Acid reflux can also be managed with lifestyle changes. Weight loss, improved posture, loose-fitting clothes, smoking cessation, avoiding late meals, raising the head of the bed 6-8 inches, and “trigger food” avoidance are effective countermeasures to heartburn. It’s also a good idea to remain standing or sitting up for at least two hours following a meal.

At Baptist Health, We Can Help

Occasional heartburn is not a crisis. You likely can control it through a combination of lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medicines. But if your symptoms are persistent or severe, it may indicate a more serious medical issue. Please see your doctor for a thorough examination of the problem.

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