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Acid Reflux and GERD: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

acid reflux and gerd

Table of Contents

Acid reflux occurs as stomach contents return to the esophagus. It is also called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). If you have more frequently acid reflux, you may have a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). This can cause serious problems if left untreated. This article covers all the information about acid reflux and GERD.

Symptoms

The lower esophageal sphincter (LES), at the end of the esophagus, is a circular muscle band. When you eat or drink, it opens and then it tightens as you finish the meal. Acid reflux happens when the LES doesn’t function properly or close. It allows the stomach acid and other contents to come up into the esophagus (1, 2).

However, this can cause uncomfortable burning sensation which can radiate up to your neck. This sensation is also called heartburn. If you have acid reflux problems, you may experience a sour or bitter taste in your mouth.

GERD symptoms include:

  • irritation
  • heartburn
  • hiccups
  • nausea
  • asthma
  • bad breath
  • chronic cough
  • regurgitation
  • difficulty swallowing
  • repeated vomiting

It is important to speak to your doctor about the symptoms of GERD. However, over time, these signs can lead to more serious health problems, such as esophageal cancer if left untreated.

Risks and Complications

Some conditions may increase your chances of producing GERD such as obesity, pregnancy, hiatal hernia, and connective tissue disorders. However, some lifestyle habits can also increase the GERD risk, including:

  • smoking or chewing tobacco
  • eating enormous meals
  • sleeping right after a meal
  • eating fried or spicy food
  • drinking soda, coffee or alcohol

GERD isn’t causing significant problems in most cases. But it can lead to serious or even life-threatening health issues. Potential GERD complications include (3):

  • chronic inflammation of esophagus (esophagitis).
  • esophagus narrows or tightens (esophageal stricture).
  • permanent damage to the lining of esophagus (barrett’s esophagus).
  • the cancer of esophageal (esophageal cancer).
  • chronic cough, breathing problems (asthma).
  • bad breath, tooth enamel erosion, gum disease (halitosis) (4).

Treatment

Your doctor may urge you to make improvements to your eating habits or other managements to avoid and ease GERD symptoms. They may also recommend over-the-counter medications, such as antacids, H2 receptor blockers, proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). Read more about treatment of GERD with over-the-counter drugs.

Diagnosing GERD

When your doctor believes that you have GERD, they will conduct a physical examination and inquire about any symptoms you have experienced. To diagnose GERD, they can use one or more of the following procedures (5):

Upper endoscopy: A flexible tube with a small camera is threaded through the esophagus to inspect and collect a tissue sample (biopsy).

Barium swallow: X-ray is used to analyze the upper digestive tract after you drink a barium solution.

Esophageal pH monitoring: A sensor is inserted into the esophagus to determine how and when it reaches the stomach acid.

Esophageal manometry: A flexible tube for measuring the strength of your esophageal muscles is threaded through your esophagus.

GERD Surgery

Usually, GERD or acid reflux surgery is the last option. Your doctor will first attempt to treat your symptoms with medications, lifestyle changes, and natural remedies. If your symptoms did not relieve by these methods, your doctor will recommend surgery.

There are several options for surgery that may help to relieve symptoms of GERD and control complications. However, your doctor will help you determine which surgery will better relieve your symptoms. Read more about GERD surgery options and procedures.

GERD and Nausea

People with GERD often have a sour taste in their mouths. Typically, the taste can cause nausea. Another symptom of reflux and GERD that may contribute to nausea is the sensation of stomach acid, which is irritating to the oesophagus. Read more about GERD and nausea: causes, symptoms, and prevention.

GERD and Asthma

Approximately 75 percent of people with asthma have experienced GERD. For understanding the exact relationship between asthma and GERD, we require more research. It is likely GERD may cause asthma symptoms worse. But asthma and a few asthma medicines may increase your risk of GERD. If you have an asthma and GERD, managing both conditions is critical (6, 7).

However, the acid will irritate the airways, causing them to swell. This can cause breathing problems. This means that people with GERD will be more likely to have asthma, and people with asthma will experience GERD more often than others. Read more about GERD and Athma: causes, symptoms, and treatment.

GERD and Bad Breath

A defective or relaxed lower esophageal sphincter (LES) stays open, allowing acids to flow back into your mouth. Regurgitation of the contents of your stomach can cause a bitter taste in your mouth. Often, because of the symptoms, you can even notice an unpleasant smell. You can handle your bad breath not only by treating your GERD, but by making a few changes. Read more about the link between GERD and bad breath.

GERD And Coughing

Most people with GERD-related cough do not experience the same signs and symptoms as heartburn. Chronic cough can be caused by acid reflux or by reflux of non-acid stomach content. GERD-related coughing includes frequent coughing at night, coughing without asthma, coughing right after meals, coughing while you lie down, and coughing if there are no common reasons, such as smoking or allergies. Read more about GERD and chronic coughing.

GERD in Children

About two-thirds of babies ages 4 months have GERD symptoms. This affects up to 10 percent of 1-year-old children. Sometimes it’s common for infants to spit up food and vomit. But if your baby regularly coughing up food or vomiting, they may have GERD. Some GERD signs and symptoms in children include (8):

  • trouble swallowing
  • refusing to eat
  • not gaining weight
  • breathing difficulties
  • difficulty sleeping
  • having pain after feeding
  • recurrent vomiting at 6 months of age or older

It is hard to identify GERD symptoms in infants. However, if you think your baby might have GERD or other health problem, make an appointment with your doctor. Read more about treatment of GERD in children.

GERD and Pregnancy

Pregnancy will make you more likely to experience acid reflux. If you had GERD before you were pregnant, your symptoms could get worse. Hormonal changes during pregnancy may cause further relaxation of the esophagus muscles.

A growing fetus may also put pressure on your stomach. This can increase the risk of entering stomach acid in to the esophagus. Many drugs used to treat acid reflux are safe to take during pregnancy. The doctor can however warn you in certain cases to avoid such antacids or other treatments. Read more about GERD during pregnancy.

Diet and GERD

Some people get GERD symptoms triggered by certain types of foods and beverages. Foods that make the symptoms worse include:

  • spicy foods
  • garlic
  • onions
  • mint
  • grapefruit
  • lemons
  • pineapple
  • salsa
  • acidic drinks
  • caffeine
  • orange juice or oranges
  • carbonated beverages
  • tomato sauce or tomatoes

Food triggers can vary from person to person. Learn more about foods to prevent acid reflux or GERD symptoms.

GERD Home remedies

There are some lifestyle changes and home remedies that help ease the GERD symptoms include:

  • quit smoking
  • lose excess weight
  • eat smaller meals
  • chew sugar free gum
  • try meditation
  • avoid tight clothing
  • raise the head of the bed
  • avoid lying down after eating
  • avoid acidic foods and drinks

Home remedies can prevent occasional acid reflux and some GERD symptoms. When chronic, uncontrolled acid reflux occurs, you are at increased risk of oesophageal damage. Read more about home remedies for GERD that can minimize symptoms.

Herbs and Supplements for GERD

Certain herbal remedies for heartburn include herbs and supplements that are readily available. There is limited evidence to recommend the use of herbs in GERD. However, what your doctor recommends for GERD can be helpful to you. Before using any herbal remedies for heartburn, always consult with your doctor first.

  • Peppermint Oil
  • Aloe Vera Juice
  • Ginger Root
  • Melatonin
  • Antioxidants

There is no evidence to support herbal remedies for acid reflux. A product called Iberogast has been the topic of several studies. It is made of 9 different herbs, including:

  • Angelica
  • Caraway
  • German chamomile
  • Clown’s mustard plant
  • Greater celandine
  • Licorice
  • Milk thistle
  • Lemon balm
  • Peppermint

Some studies have shown that Iberogast can help to ease heartburn. However, it is not clear which of these nine herbs relieves symptoms. Read more about natural herbal remedies for heartburn and GERD.

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Naeem Durrani BSc
Naeem Durrani is a freelance journalist who specializes in health and wellness innovation. His interests include medical research, nutrition, and the scientific evidence around effective wellness practices that empower people to positively transform their lives.
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