Many people suffer from heartburn, that uncomfortable burning sensation that occurs just under the heart, from time to time, but if it occurs regularly and gets progressively worse there is a good chance that acid reflux disease is the culprit. The burning and discomfort is caused by stomach acid that is back flowing into the esophagus, the tube that runs from the throat to the stomach. The esophagus does not have the same protective coating of mucus that the stomach and can be damaged by stomach contents that get regurgitated into it. Acid reflux, also know as Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) affects millions of people every day.
Heartburn normally occurs after a large meal has been consumed and everyone seems to suffer from it from time to time. If you are having symptoms consistently over a period of two or more weeks it may be a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor to discuss the possibility that you have acid reflux disease.
Doctors know that acid reflux is caused by a weakening of the esophageal sphincters that are supposed to keep the contents of the stomach from flowing back into the esophagus but they still do not know what causes this weakening and failure of these important checkpoints. Taking the proper steps to control it using diet, exercise, stress reduction, and over the counter medications does make this a manageable condition.
There is a whole list of things that can set off acid reflux or make its symptoms worse. These can include certain types of foods and drinks like onions, certain spices, chocolate, fatty foods, caffeine and alcohol. Other lifestyle choices that can further exacerbate the symptoms of acid reflux also includes smoking, obesity, and in certain cases pregnancy, which puts excess pressure on the stomach forcing its contents back up the esophagus. By making changes in all these areas the symptoms of acid reflux disease can be managed and controlled.
If no steps are taken to prevent GERD it long term affects can cause irreversible damage to the lining of the esophagus. This can include ulcers, scarring, and a narrowing of the esophagus which lead to problems with swallowing. It can also damage the larynx which can cause hoarseness and loss of vocal ability. There is also a concern for a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which is damage caused to the lower portion of the esophagus by gastric acids. This can lead to a pre-malignant condition which is associated with the development of esophageal cancer.
In addition to lifestyle changes and antacids the most predominant treatment for acid reflux disease symptoms are proton pump inhibitors and prokinetic agent medications. These are particularly useful for those who suffer from chronic symptoms, but it always important to talk to your doctor before starting any form of medical or drug therapy.
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