Acid reflux is a condition where acidic stomach contents rise into the esophagus. The stomach lining has a mucous coat which provides protection against the hydrochloric acid that is produced there, but the esophagus does not have this protection and is subject to irritation and sores when acid comes in contact with its tissues.
Normally the bottom of the esophagus is kept close by the lower esophageal sphincter. However a number of conditions can cause this sphincter to not work well. Both smoking and alcohol consumption can relax the sphincter. Eating meals that are too large, wearing clothing that is too tight around the waistline, or bending or other physical exertion after a meal can all cause it. Pregnancy, obesity, some prescription medications, and various trigger foods (caffeine, spicy foods, acidic foods) are also causes.
For the majority of sufferers, lifestyle changes can eliminate or minimize acid reflux. It should not be ignored because prolonged exposure of the esophagus to acid can lead to sores and erosion of the esophageal lining.
Acid reflux disease, or GERD (Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease), is a common ailment, affecting between 5%-7% of the population. In order to understand what acid reflux, it is important to be familiar with how the esophagus works. The oesophagus is a long muscular tube that carries food and liquid from the mouth to the stomach. The average adult esophagus is around ten to thirteen inches long and approximately half an inch in diameter. Acid reflux is caused by the backflow of acid from the stomach into the esophagus, usually because the lower esophageal sphincter does not close properly. When this happens for a long time, the lining of this tract becomes eroded, causing discomfort and pain.
Symptoms of the disease are fairly straightforward and similar to the symptoms of heartburn. Acid reflux often includes a frequent burning sensation, right behind the breastbone, which sometimes worsens when lying down for extended periods of time. While most cases of heartburn are not life threatening, it is important that you visit your doctor at the onset of symptoms. Unfortunately, the symptoms of both indigestion and acid reflux can also imitate those of heart disease, so it is very important that you seek medical attention to make sure that you get the correct diagnosis.
There are a number of medical tests which your doctor can perform which will confirm the diagnosis of acid reflux. After your doctor or healthcare professional has studied your medical history, he or she will most likely do an endoscopic test, allowing the doctor to visibly examine your esophagus.
If you are diagnosed with Acid Reflux disease, there are a number of treatment options available: making changes to your diet, reducing stress, and taking over-the-counter antacids. Serious cases of acid reflux may require a prescription drug to reduce the acid being produced by your stomach, but lifestyle changes are often sufficient to control symptoms successfully.