Acid Reflux or acid regurgitation is a common condition and happens when the contents of the stomach move up the food pipe (esophagus). Technically, it is the backward flow of the stomach acid from the stomach to the throat. It can cause a burning sensation in the food and chest, a bitter taste in the mouth and sometimes a cough too.
Are Acid Reflux and GERD different?
In case any of the symptoms of acid reflux or acidity prolong or occur about twice a week, the condition is called Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, popularly known as GERD. When acid reflux worsens, it can turn into GERD.
Acid Reflux in the throat
Sometimes, people may experience a burning sensation in the throat or a bitter taste in the throat without the other symptoms of acid reflux or GERD. This could be due to a condition called silent reflux or Laryngopharyngeal Reflux. In this case, the sphincter at the end of the food pipe that controls the acid from moving away from the stomach doesn’t work as intended. It could be because it is underdeveloped as with infants or because it is weakened. Silent reflux is difficult to diagnose as it presents with confusing symptoms such as:
- Chronic cough
- Excessive throat clearing
- Sore throat
- Trouble in swallowing and breathing
Is heartburn the same as Acid Reflux?
Heartburn refers to pain in the chest that can range from mild to severe. It happens when there is stomach acid in the esophagus. Heartburn can cause pain, burning or tightening in the esophagus which is often confused as the pain related to a heart attack. Since it happens in the esophagus, the symptoms occur in the chest region and can be misleading to the person experiencing it. It is a common condition and can happen with irregular food and lifestyle habits. When it is very frequent, it could be symptomatic of acid reflux or in severe cases, GERD. In case a person experiences frequent heartburn, it is better to consult a doctor.
Causes of Acid Reflux and GERD
Acid reflux and GERD are caused when the sphincter (the muscular ring at both ends of the esophagus) is weakened. The following conditions can cause them:
- Abnormalities in the stomach such as a hiatal hernia
- Smoking and drinking
- Being overweight or obese
- Abuse of painkillers, blood thinners
- Certain medications such as BP medicines (when taken for a prolonged duration)
- Eating habits – eating heavy meals, snacking after meals or during bedtime
- Lying down on the stomach right after a meal
- Certain foods such as chocolate, citrus fruits, caffeinated beverages, carbonated beverages, spicy foods, mint, onions, garlic, tomatoes, etc.
- Fatty foods and dairy products
Symptoms of Acid Reflux and GERD
Cough, sore throat, bitter taste at the back of the throat, sour taste in the mouth and burning sensation in the food pipe are the symptoms of acid reflux. With GERD, the following symptoms can manifest as well:
- Persistent cough (dry)
- Trouble in breathing and swallowing
- Bad breath and damage to the enamel of the teeth (due to the acid)
- Perceiving a lump in the throat
- Sore throat, asthma, wheezing
- Partial Loss of voice
Get in touch with a doctor in case you experience the symptoms of acid reflux at night. Early intervention can help prevent acid reflux from developing into GERD.
Managing Acid Reflux and GERD on your own
Most people suffer from acid reflux and GERD owing to their eating and lifestyle habits. Some foods can trigger acid reflux or worsen the symptoms of GERD. It is important to identify the triggers and avoid them as much as possible. Quitting smoking and reducing alcohol consumption has been known to help ease the condition. Also, consuming small meals at regular intervals, exercising, using herbs such as chamomile, licorice root, avoiding caffeine and using relaxation techniques provide symptomatic relief.
Food items to avoid for Acid Reflux
‘Let food be thy medicine’, goes a famous quote from Hippocrates. This is very much applicable when it comes to acid reflux. Avoiding certain food items can help you manage the symptoms better, and in some cases, prevent it altogether.
Citrus fruits are acidic in nature and could trigger acid reflux or heartburn. Avoid lemons, grapes, pineapple, tomatoes, and oranges.
Onions and Garlic
They have been known to trigger heartburn and reflux in many cases. You could try using them in moderation. In case you are intolerant, you may have to avoid them altogether.
They are known to cause pressure on the esophageal sphincters and also give you a sense of feeling full, as they delay the emptying of your stomach. This could aggravate your reflux or GERD. Avoid the following:
- Fried Food – French Fries, Chips, Deep Fried Items such as fried chicken, onion rings, etc.
- Dairy – Milk, Cream, Cheese
- Fatty Salad Dressings, Fatty Meats, and even ice creams
Food items containing Capsaicin
Capsaicin is the ingredient in peppers that makes them ‘hot’ or ‘spicy’ to taste. Spicy food will aggravate your reflux and in case of prolonged consumption, it may lead to ulcers too! If you are suffering from mild heartburn and acidity, use spices in moderation. In the case of GERD, it is better to avoid spicy food altogether.
Carbonated and Caffeinated Beverages
It is advisable to reduce the intake of coffee, tea, and carbonated drinks to manage your reflux. While some people may be tolerant to caffeine, in others, GERD might be triggered even with intake of mild caffeine.
Natural Remedies for Acid Reflux
There are many natural digestive aids that help restore the pH balance in the stomach and that soothe the symptoms of acidity. You could try the following remedies:
- Ginger – Ginger root tea is a popular herbal remedy that helps with digestion.
- Aloe Vera – Yes, you read it right! Aloe Vera is not just great for the skin and hair, it can work wonders for your acidity when ingested.
- Mustard and Fennel Seeds – They both help restore the pH balance of the stomach and are loaded with minerals.
- Chewing gum or mint right after a meal can help alleviate heartburn.
- Alkaline foods such as apple cider vinegar, fermented foods and even baking soda (small amounts) have been known to ease heartburn and acidity.
- Do not lie down right after a meal or on your stomach.
- Eat smaller meals and have fruits such as banana, papaya, and apple in between meals and instead of snacks to help prevent acid reflux altogether.
These remedies help combat the onset of acid reflux or GERD. In chronic cases, it is important to consult a doctor and get the right diagnosis.
Diagnosing Acid Reflux and GERD
In most cases, medicines are prescribed based on symptomatic presentations. In severe cases and in cases where the person isn’t responding to medication as expected, additional tests may be conducted to confirm or rule out GERD. Here are some of the common diagnostic tests for GERD:
- Ambulatory acid probe
- Upper endoscopy
- Upper GI series
- Esophageal Manometry
Complications of GERD
It is important to manage GERD effectively to ensure that there are no complications. In most people, GERD can cause trouble while eating or lying down and affect their breathing (when it leads to asthma). However, in rare cases, it can cause complications such as:
- Dental problems – tooth enamel erosion, tooth decay
- Problems with the esophagus – cancer, Barrett’s esophagus, inflammation, narrowing or tightening
- Severe respiratory complications
In the case of early diagnosis, acid reflux can be managed with natural remedies quite effectively. Consult a doctor in case you are experiencing frequent heartburn; you may be able to get rid of your acid reflux altogether by avoiding the triggers. At mfine, you can consult top gastroenterologists online and get the right diagnosis and treatment for your condition.