Acid Reflux

Many of us have experiences with heartburn. While heartburn can be mild for a many of us, for others it is extraordinarily painful. Heartburn is the generic term for gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD, “reflux” and acid reflux.

Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is a disorder where the acidic juices of the stomach flow back (therefore reflux) into the esophagus. The stomach walls are built to withstand the acids that are produced by digesting foods. The esophagus on the other hand, which is the tube that passes food from the throat to the stomach, has a very thin lining to it. This lining does not have the protective strength compared to the stomach walls. Thus when stomach acid reflux into the esophagus it makes the lower section of the esophagus painful and irritated. This painful inflammation is then called reflux esophagitis.

About Acid Reflux

The esophagus is usually sealed from the stomach by a flap known as the Lower Esophageal Sphincter, also called LES. This valve only opens when food passes into the stomach from the esophagus. Unfortunately, a few conditions can cause this valve to work incorrectly. These factors range from eating large meals, drinking caffeine based drinks, eating acid causing foods to taking drugs like morphine, meperidine, nitrate heart medications and adrenergic drugs. Peppermint and chocolate on the other hand, help the LES to relax.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux

The symptoms of acid reflux are well spread. They range from your typical heartburn to cramping, excess salivation, shortness of breath, difficult or painful swallowing, fluid or vomit being inhaled into the lungs and other conditions. While acid reflux is painful, frequently occurring gastroesophageal reflux can lead to more serious conditions known as reflux esophagitis, esophageal narrowing and esophageal ulcer. The most serious acid reflux condition is Barrett’s syndrome. With Barrett’s syndrome a change in the lining of the esophagus leads to esophageal cancer.

Who has Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux can be experienced anyone. The main sufferers of acid reflux are those who are obese, experience repeated vomiting, have nasogastric tubes, and have a history of hiatal hernia or scleroderma. Pregnant women are also a group that is exposed to acid reflux.

Diagnosing acid reflux

Acid reflux can – fortunately enough – be diagnosed and treated so that the symptoms are relived. A gastroenterologist will take x-rays of the patient. The patient will drink a barium solution and lie down so that their head is lower that their feet. An esophagoscopy examination is taken. Here a flexible viewing tube is inserted into the patient’s esophagus to take a closer look.