Acid Reflux Explained
If you suffer from acid reflux you know the scary burning feeling you can have in the middle of your chest. Sometimes the pain can make you wonder if you are having a heart attack. It’s understandable to be concerned.
But did you know that you shouldn’t be totally relieved to find out that it’s not a heart attack? This isn’t just related to the lifestyle you lead or the foods you eat. That burning you feel could be a signal of a more serious health condition involving your digestive system.
That’s why you need to get a proper diagnosis to see what is going on. You don’t want to ignore the symptoms because this can just lead to further problems down the line. Let’s examine how acid reflux happens, first from a physiological standpoint.
The Physiology Of It All
- Your esophagus runs from the back of your throat to the stomach. It is where all the food you eat travels from your mouth to the stomach to be digested. Your stomach excretes acid when food enters which helps to break down the food for further digestion as it passes into the small intestine.
- The reason it is called acid reflux is due to the fact that acid from the stomach backs up into the esophagus. This acid causes pain due to the esophagus not having protection from stomach acid as the stomach has.
- The esophageal sphincter is located at the place where the esophagus connects to the stomach. It opens to allow food to pass and it is supposed to close to prevent stomach acid from backing up into the esophagus. When there is an issue with the esophageal sphincter, the result can be acid reflux.
- The esophageal sphincter may become weakened or simply not work properly. When this happens it allows stomach acid to back up into the esophagus and in some cases all the way into the back of the throat. This can cause the pain and burning you may experience. If this happens while you are sleeping you can also aspirate the acid into your lungs. If this aspiration is severe you may wake up choking or even develop chemical pneumonia.
Acid Reflux vs. Heartburn
Now that you know a little about the anatomy you can understand how acid reflux can affect you. You need to know that many people have occasional heartburn. This may happen due to stress or eating a really spicy meal. If you have mild heartburn occasionally there is usually nothing to be concerned about. Heartburn can really be just occasional heartburn, and nothing more serious. But if you are having symptoms frequently, and you feel that the symptoms are happening more frequently or getting worse, it may be time to see your doctor.
Here we need to describe the difference between acid reflux and heartburn. Heartburn is the pain and uncomfortable sensation you feel. Acid reflux is the cause of the pain. Acid reflux is the underlying condition that creates the heartburn pain you experience.
- Heartburn– Most people have experienced heartburn at least once in their lives. However, heartburn from acid reflux feels like heartburn that just doesn’t want to go away. You should keep an eye on the frequency and intensity of heartburn. If either of those things increases it is time to consult with your doctor. You also should monitor if you are taking antacids more frequently as well.
- Pain– The pain from acid reflux may be common in the chest area, but it is most commonly felt in the back of the throat. This pain may come and go or it may be constant. I may be mild pain or it can be severe pain in more advanced cases.
- Burning– As acid backs up into the esophagus and throat the tissues become burned from the acid and this is what causes a burning sensation. You may feel the need to belch with it, or it may become a constant burning sensation that won’t go away.
- Chest Pain– The chest pain associated with acid reflux can be mild or can be severe and make you think of a heart attack. It can also be associated with the familiar burning sensation reported by so many people.
- Regurgitation– You may have an aweful acid taste in your mouth. This can be associated with a “wet” burp. You may also actually vomit when undigested food comes back up the esophagus.
- Sore Throat– The acid that backs up into your throat may cause a type of chemical burn to the tissue that can result in a sore throat. If you have reflux at night while lying down and sleeping you may mistake the sore throat as being from a cold or other illness.
Some Conditions That Can Aggravate Acid Reflux
Certain conditions may tend to aggravate acid reflux. In addition, certain things we do may also aggravate the condition. Below are some instances where acid reflux may begin or become worse.
- Pregnancy- It is common in pregnancy to develop acid reflux. As the developing baby takes up more room in the abdomen the uterus pushes on other organs. This can lead to compression of the stomach in the pregnant woman and food or acid backing up into the esophagus. The condition may resolve after the baby is born or it may continue for some time.
- Eating Large Meals– We can all have a bit of indigestion, especially after eating a huge holiday meal. But for those with acid reflux a large meal can really aggravate those symptoms. A large meal can cause food and acid to back up, to the point of even causing someone with acid reflux to vomit. Those with acid reflux would do much better eating several small meals instead of one large meal.
- Food Triggers– Certain food may tend to aggrevate acid reflux symptoms. Spicy foods or foods with a high acid content, such as tomatos or sauces made with them. Keeping an eye on the foods that make your symptoms worse can help to shed some light on the things you need to avoid to prevent your symptoms from getting worse.
- Lifestyle– Certain habits such as tobacco and alcohol use can make your symptoms worse as well. You may need to eat your evening meal earlier to allow your food time to digest before you lie down to sleep. Simple lifestyle changes can have a big effect on how much you suffer with acid reflux.
As you can see, acid reflux can be hard to live with. There are however some things you can do to lessen the symptoms of the disease. Seek the advice of your doctor and keep an eye on the frequency of your symptoms. This way you can take control and lessen the impact of acid reflux on your life.