Acid Reflux: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

The facts about acid reflux:

  • Acid reflux is just another term for gastroesophageal reflux
  • The stomach juice that refluxes contains many chemicals of which acid is only one
  • Drugs that are used to treat GERD decrease or remove acid from the juices that are refluxing, but the reflux continues

If you suffer from chronic acid reflux, you do not have to suffer.

Cause of Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is very descriptive of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD.)  In fact they are one and the same. These terms can be used interchangeably.

The term, acid reflux tends to imply that the stomach juice that “refluxes” upward into the esophagus causing symptoms is acid alone.  However, the juices that are contained within the stomach include a wide array of chemicals.  These include bile, enzymes and others.  The stomach also produces acid that is mixed with these other chemicals. The reason the term “acid” reflux is used is that when reflux occurs, acid is the component of the stomach juice that causes irritation of the esophagus and therefore, the symptoms.

This reflux occurs due to a malfunction of a muscular structure called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) located at the end of the swallowing tube (esophagus) at the point where it joins the stomach.  Under normal circumstances, the LES functions as a valve allowing food to pass readily into the stomach while not allowing stomach contents to back up or “reflux” upward into the esophagus. When the function of the LES is compromised, it loses its valve function and stomach contents can move the wrong direction up into the esophagus.  The lining of the esophagus is sensitive and not meant to withstand exposure stomach juices, including acid.

What are Symptoms of Acid Reflux?

Along with heartburn, the other “typical” symptoms of GERD are regurgitation and swallowing difficulty, termed dysphagia.  Regurgitation is the reflux of bitter stomach juice into the back of the throat without warning.  This tends to occur at night, with a person wakes up with bitter material in the back of the throat accompanied by a choking sensation.  It is quite a miserable experience and is very specific for acid reflux.  It can occur during the day as well, even when just bending over. Dysphagia is a symptom that must be evaluated expeditiously.  It usually represents some damage to the esophagus from long-standing reflux.  However, it can also represent something quite serious such as a narrowing of the esophagus from reflux or even an esophageal cancer.

GERD can also cause other symptoms that we term “atypical.”  These can include chronic cough, sore throat, throat clearing, voice fatigue, worsening of preexisting asthma, dental disease and others.  These atypical symptoms can be difficult to recognize as caused by GERD.

Barrett’s Esophagus

People who have chronic GERD are at risk for the development of Barrett's esophagus, which is a precancerous condition affecting the lining of the esophagus that can only be diagnosed by endoscopy

Treatment With Acid Reflux Medications

Very commonly medications are taken by patients, prescribed or over the counter, for acid reflux (or GERD). The drugs are usually effective in neutralizing the acid in the stomach juice and/or decrease its production by the stomach. Please note, that although the painful and uncomfortable symptoms of reflux are typically improved, the reflex continues to occur.

Notably, the actual cause of acid reflux is not addressed by the medications. The dysfunctional valve at the end of the esophagus is not changed at all. Therefore, since the valve which causes the reflux is not improved. In many cases, maintaining relief requires these medicines for life and does not reduce the risk of cancer. In others, these drugs fail and another approach is needed for relief.

There are other therapies available that a GERD sufferer should be made aware of including minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery that restores the function of the faulty valve, stopping the reflux and eliminating the need for medications. Importantly, stopping the reflux possibly reduces the risk of getting cancer.

Talk to your physician or call Garnet Health Doctors at 845-333-7575 for an appointment with a primary care provider.  

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