What Causes Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux, affects millions worldwide. It leads to heartburn, a burning sensation when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. If acid reflux occurs frequently, it may indicate a disease known as GORD.

This blog will explore what is reflux, its causes, how to treat it, and what to do during an attack. It will also address common concerns, such as whether acid reflux can be life-threatening.

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What is Acid Reflux?

Nearly one in five Australians have reflux or heartburn regularly. Acid reflux is a digestive disorder where stomach acid or bile irritates the food pipe lining. 

The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a ring of muscle at the entrance to your stomach. Typically, the LES closes as soon as food passes through it. If the LES doesn’t close all the way or opens too often, acid produced by your stomach can move up into your esophagus. This can cause symptoms such as a burning chest discomfort known as heartburn.

Is Acid Reflux the Same as GORD?

Some degree of acid reflux is normal. Many healthy individuals experience acid reflux occasionally. Studies using 24-hour pH measurements in symptom-free people show that acid reflux can occur up to 5% of the day.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is diagnosed when acid reflux happens frequently and severely enough to cause troublesome symptoms or complications. For simplicity, the terms acid reflux and GORD will be used interchangeably in this guide.

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How to Get Rid of Acid Reflux?

Managing acid reflux typically involves lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, and sometimes medications. Here are some effective strategies:

Lifestyle Changes

  • Lose weight if overweight.
  • Eat smaller meals.
  • Avoid lying down after a meal. Wait at least three hours before lying down or going to bed.
  • Elevate the head of your bed by six to eight inches.

Dietary Adjustments

Avoid trigger foods and drinks like spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine.

  • Eat a high-fiber diet.
  • Drink plenty of water.

Medications

Over-the-counter medications such as antacids can relieve stomach acid. However, discuss your condition and its symptoms with a doctor before taking any medication.

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What is the Difference Between Heartburn and Reflux/GORD?

Heartburn, a burning sensation behind the breastbone, is the most characteristic symptom of GORD. However, GORD can also cause several other symptoms.

What are the Symptoms of Acid Reflux?

The two most typical symptoms of acid reflux are:

  • Heartburn: An uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest, behind the breastbone.
  • Regurgitation: A sensation of fluid moving up the chest and throat, sometimes reaching the mouth having a sour taste.

Other symptoms associated with reflux include:

  • Chest or Upper Abdominal Pain
  • Cough
  • Sore Throat and/or Hoarseness
  • Erosion of Tooth Enamel

While mild difficulty or an increased sensation of food traveling down the esophagus is common in GORD, it is generally not a symptom of acid reflux.

However, many of these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than acid reflux, and careful evaluation can determine if GORD is the actual cause.

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What Causes Acid Reflux?

Here are several factors what causes reflux:

Dietary Choices: Foods and drinks like spicy, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, and fatty foods can trigger acid reflux.

Obesity: Excess weight can pressure the abdomen, pushing stomach contents into the esophagus.

Pregnancy: Hormonal changes and the growing fetus can increase pressure on the stomach.

Smoking: Smoking can weaken the LES, leading to acid reflux.

Medications: Certain medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, certain muscle relaxers, and blood pressure medications, can cause acid reflux.

How to Stop Reflux?

Stopping acid reflux involves a combination of immediate relief and long-term lifestyle changes. Here are some tips:

Immediate Relief

  • Take antacids to neutralize stomach acid.
  • Drink a glass of water.
  • Chew gum to increase saliva production and help neutralize acid.

Long-Term Solutions

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid tight-fitting clothing, especially around the waist.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Manage stress through relaxation techniques such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises.
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What to Do During an Acid Reflux Attack?

Experiencing an acid reflux attack can be quite uncomfortable. Here’s what you can do:

Sit Up Straight: Gravity can help keep stomach acid down.

Drink Water: A few sips can help wash acid back down.

Chew Gum: This can help increase saliva production and neutralize acid.

Take an Antacid: Over-the-counter antacids can provide quick relief.

Apply a Cold Pack: Placing a cold pack on the chest can sometimes help reduce the burning sensation.

Can You Die from Acid Reflux in Your Sleep?

While it is rare, severe acid reflux can cause complications that could potentially be life-threatening if not managed properly. 

Chronic acid reflux can lead to conditions such as esophageal cancer. Additionally, acid reflux during sleep can lead to aspiration, where stomach contents enter the lungs, which can cause pneumonia or other respiratory issues. 

It is crucial to manage acid reflux symptoms to avoid these serious complications.

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Conclusion

Acid reflux is a common condition that can cause significant discomfort and lead to more serious health issues if not appropriately managed. 

Understanding what causes acid reflux and implementing lifestyle and dietary changes can help prevent and manage symptoms. 

If you experience frequent or severe acid reflux, it is vital to seek medical advice and get acid reflux treatment from a doctor online to rule out any underlying conditions.

By making informed choices about your diet and lifestyle, you can reduce the frequency and severity of acid reflux episodes and improve your overall quality of life. 

Remember, while acid reflux is usually not life-threatening, it should not be ignored, and effective management is key to maintaining good health.

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