Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux (GER) occurs when acid moves from the stomach to the esophagus, a muscular tube connecting your belly and throat. This reflux is characterized by a burning sensation in the chest, also referred to as heartburn. You are also likely to experience food taste regurgitation of sourness at the back of your mouth.
If this reflux is experienced more than twice in a week, you may be suffering from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which will require acid reflux treatment. With GERD, you are prone to experience coughing/wheezing, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, in addition to GER symptoms. The good news is that there are ways you can prevent acid reflux from occurring or recurring.
This is one of the top triggers of heartburn and acid reflux. Although certain foods are typically to blame, large meals can accelerate the effects. A large meal exerts too much pressure over the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) muscle. This muscle acts as the valve leading to the stomach from the esophagus.
The LES allows food to get to the stomach by opening up and closing to prevent any backflow of acid into the esophagus. Should the LES relax abnormally or grow weak, acid finds its way from the stomach to the esophagus, triggering heartburn. Understand that the average stomach size is not much larger than a clenched fist, so eating more than it can hold will cause it to expand abnormally and exert pressure on the LES. The effect will then be poor digestion and acid reflux.
Skip Spicy Foods
Despite being popular, spicy foods are major culprits when it comes to acid reflux and heartburn. Most spicy foods are loaded with a compound known as capsaicin. This compound slows down the rate of digestion, causing the food to stay longer in the belly and heighten the risk of gastric juices reflux.
Keep Away From High Fat Foods
A greasy burger and a serving of fries right before bed is an excellent way to fuel heartburn. Fatty foods are indeed top triggers for acid reflux and heartburn. High-fat foods tend to stay long in the stomach since they are harder to digest, causing your belly to produce acid that can be irritating to your digestive system. More so, overeating fatty food can lead to obesity, which can, in turn, increase the risk of developing acid reflux.
If you already have a list of heartburn triggers, add alcohol to it. Alcohol consumption has been shown to increase the likelihood of developing GERD, so to reduce the risk of acid reflux, skip it, or limit your intake. That includes hard liquor, wine, and beer. Alcohol can also damage the esophageal mucosa and lead to esophageal cancer. The risk increases when you follow it up with smoking.
Do Not Lie Down After Eating
Try not to lie down for at least three hours after each meal. Otherwise, your stomach acid may rise and lead to discomfort. Ideally, when you sit or stand upright, gravity and your digestive system are in sync. When you lie down, your LES becomes less active, allowing acidic juices to flow to the esophagus.
Limit Caffeinated Beverages
Caffeine is found in many tea and coffee varieties and has been identified as a possible acid reflux trigger. The reason is that it tends to relax the LES, thereby allowing the juices to flow from the stomach to the esophagus. Try consuming decaffeinated versions to minimize the recurrence of acid reflux, but understand that coffee is naturally acidic.
Review your Medication
Certain medications can increase the risk of suffering from acid reflux by interfering with the digestive system or causing the LES to relax. Some of them include:
- Calcium channel blockers, which are mostly used in the treatment of hypertension
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Medications used to treat glaucoma and allergies
- Some asthma medications
- Iron tablets
- Certain antibiotics
If your doctor has recommended any of these medications or you are self-medicating, seek medical advice if you begin to suffer from acid reflux. For long-term medications, your doctor could switch you to a drug that won’t irritate your digestive tract. However, do not stop taking your medication before talking to your doctor.
Risk Factors and Treatment
Anyone can occasionally suffer from heartburn and acid reflux, for instance, after eating too quickly or consuming too much food. However, you are more at risk of developing GERD if you are:
- Overweight or obese
- A smoker
Bulimia nervosa and anorexia, which are both classified as eating disorders, are also significant risk factors. Getting into the habit of inducing vomiting can also increase the risk of developing GERD. Fortunately, many people can have this problem resolved naturally by simply practicing the above preventative measures. Others might require medical attention.
Should you experience heartburn for two or more consecutive days, consider consulting your doctor. If you have a family history of heart disease or are above the age of 50 and occasionally experience heartburn, see your physician to rule out any underlying condition. Also, if you vomit, experience difficulty swallowing/breathing, hoarseness, pass blood or notice a significant amount of weight loss following heartburn, do not hesitate to check with your doctor.
Depending on the level of your heartburn, your healthcare provider could recommend powerful drugs for persistent symptoms. Persistent GERD may require complex acid reflux treatment. Your doctor may recommend any of the following preventive medication if lifestyle changes do not relieve your symptoms:
- H2 receptor blockers
- Proton pump inhibitors (best for chronic acid reflux)
- Mucosal protectants
Rarely will surgery be needed for acid reflux. If need be, you are most likely to receive a procedure referred to as Nissen fundoplication. This procedure involves the lifting of the abdomen and tightening it around where it meets with the esophagus to build pressure in the LES.
Unlike many conditions, gastroesophageal reflux (GER) and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are preventable. Should the above tips fail to relieve your reflux, consider checking with your doctor?