Primarily a problem attributed to a western lifestyle, around 18% to 28% of the US population suffer from occasional to regular bouts of acid reflux, according to studies. Often called indigestion or heartburn, the symptoms can range from mild discomfort to severe chest pain. In the majority of cases, you can treat irregular bouts of acid reflux by simple lifestyle changes. For those who suffer frequent or long-term discomfort, surgery may be the only option.
Cause of Acid Reflux
The medical term for regular acid reflux is gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). As we eat, our food passes through a set of muscles that form a valve at the base of the esophagus (the tube running from throat to stomach). The food then enters the stomach and starts to be broken down by gastric acid. Under certain conditions, such as a weak or leaky valve, this acid can find its way into the esophagus, triggering the uncomfortable symptoms we know as heartburn. If you suffer any of these six signs of acid reflux on a regular basis, you may well have GERD.
- A burning chest pain
- A sour or unpleasant taste in the mouth, caused by the acid
- Difficulty swallowing your food or keeping it down
- Recurring hiccups or niggly cough
- A hoarse voice
- Feeling sick, and uncomfortable bloating
Many people suffer the odd bout of heartburn from time to time. A range of lifestyle issues can be responsible such as spicy foodstuffs, and caffeine or alcoholic drinks (according to this study). Furthermore, stress and anxiety attacks, being overweight, heavy smoking, some over the counter medications, and pregnancy can all trigger the onset of heartburn. In addition, developing a hiatus hernia can bring on the problem.
As previously mentioned, you might just need to make a few lifestyle changes to reduce or stop bouts of acid reflux. Make a note of food and drinks that seem to trigger your heartburn, and try to avoid them. Avoid going to bed on a full stomach, by arranging to eat your evening meal two or three hours before bedtime. Try eating little and often, rather than having two or three big meals. If overweight, start a weight reduction program. There are many community-run weight reduction programs available where people work together to shift those unwanted pounds.
Raise the top of your bed by around 20cm, so your head and chest are higher than your feet, ensuring stomach acid travels down, rather than upwards. Make sure underwear or nightwear is loose fitting around the waist, and cut out, or cut down on the usual suspects of alcohol and tobacco. However, if you’ve been keeping a daily intake diary, and prescribed medicines appear to trigger your heartburn, consult your doctor for a change of medication.
Acid reflux treatment
For very occasional occurrences, a glass of milk or shot of peppermint may be all that’s required to solve mild heartburn. For more stubborn bouts, a good acid reflux treatment can be either bought over the counter or prescribed by a doctor.
Most treatments available in your local pharmacy or supermarket fall under the collective title of antacids and are available in tablet, capsule, sachet, or liquid forms. Antacids work by either neutralizing acid in the stomach or throat, or reducing the amount of acid the stomach produces.
Among the best known are Alka-Seltzer, a large tablet that is dissolved in water, and Gaviscon, a liquid formula that helps line the stomach and holds back acid from entering the esophagus. If you find your antacids are causing constipation or diarrhea, ask your pharmacist for an antacid medication that contains both aluminum and magnesium hydroxide, which should minimize these side effects.
If all else fails, see the doctor
If you’ve tried many antacids without success, then a visit to your local health center should be made. It will allow your doctor to carry out further tests to establish whether the problem is caused purely by acid leaking into the throat, over-production of stomach acid, or something more serious. Your doctor will likely prescribe drugs such as ranitidine, lansoprazole, or omeprazole, which reduce the amount of acid made by the stomach. Failing that, and after further investigations by a specialist, he may well suggest an operation called a laparoscopic fundoplication, which will surgically reduce the stomach’s acid production, and stop your acid reflux