What Causes Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux disease, the common name for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) doesn’t close all the way or opens too often. Stomach acid can move up the esophagus and cause burning chest pain. Sometimes this is also referred to as Heartburn.

Causes of Acid Reflux

A common cause of acid reflux disease is a hiatal hernia. The diaphragm is a muscle that separates the stomach from the chest, and helps keep acid in the stomach. If your upper stomach and LES move above the diaphragm, acid can irritate your esophagus. This migration of the stomach is known as a hiatal hernia.

Other causes can include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Lying down after a meal
  • Eating large meals
  • Bending at the waist or lying on your back after a heavy meal
  • Snacking before bedtime
  • Eating citrus, tomato, chocolate, mint, garlic, onions, or spicy or fatty foods
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Drinking alcohol, carbonated drinks, coffee or tea
  • Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, muscle relaxers, or blood pressure medications

Symptoms of Acid Reflux Disease

The common symptoms of acid reflux disease can include:

  • Burning pain or discomfort that moves from your stomach to your chest
  • Sour or bitter tasting acid in the back of your throat
  • Bloating
  • Bloody or black stools
  • Vomiting blood
  • Dysphagia, a narrowing of the esophagus
  • Continuing hiccups
  • Nausea
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Wheezing, dry cough, chronic sore throat

These symptoms are typical of acid reflux disease, but many can indicate more serious conditions. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult your doctor.

Treating Acid Reflux Disease

If your doctor has diagnosed you with acid reflux disease, there are steps you can take to manage your symptoms on your own. Small lifestyle changes, such as avoiding food or beverages that trigger acid reflux, can help keep you comfortable. Other steps you can take may be:

  • Starting a weight loss program if you are overweight
  • Sleeping in a chair or upright position for naps
  • Raising the head of your bed 4-6 inches with blocks
  • Eating smaller meals, and eating more frequently throughout the day
  • Quitting smoking
  • Refraining from eating for 2-3 hours before bed

You should also discuss with your doctor if any medications may be causing your condition. They may also have suggestions about steps to take to manage your acid reflux, and can recommend the best course of treatment. Your doctor might decide to recommend medication for you. These medications work to control acid reflux through a number of methods, and include:

  • H2 Blockers, such as Pepcid, Tagamet, and Zantac. These decrease acid production.
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors, such as Prilosec, Prevacid, Protonix, Aciphex, and Nexium. These reduce acid production as well.
  • Foaming agents, such as Gavascon. These coat your stomach to prevent reflux.
  • Prokinetics, such as Reglan and Urecholine. These help strengthen the LES, empty your stomach faster, and reduce the amount of acid produced.
  • Antacids, such as Alka-Seltzer, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, or Riopan. These neutralize stomach acid.

Your doctor might also refer you to a board-certified allergist if your acid reflux disease is triggering other conditions. Asthma can be worsened or triggered by acid reflux. An allergist can help treat your breathing or sinus problems. They may also test to see if your acid reflux is caused by food allergies. A simple blood test can determine if there are certain foods which trigger your acid reflux. Cutting these foods out of your diet can bring relief.

If your asthma or sinus problems are affected by acid reflux, we can help. Our experienced, board-certified Georgia allergists can determine if there is an allergy causing your acid reflux, and help treat the respiratory symptoms. Contact the Center for Allergy and Asthma of Georgia today to learn more.

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