Acid Reflux: An overview on Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

Introduction to acid reflux

Acid reflux is characterized by a burning sensation that travels right from the upper part of the stomach to the throat or the mid-chest region due to a backflow of the contents of the stomach into the esophagus. This burning sensation is what is popularly called heartburn. Call acid reflux acid regurgitation and you won’t be wrong. And if you see or hear gastroesophageal reflux, it is not far from it. So I could choose to use any of these names in this article.

Acid reflux is a distinct type of digestive anomaly. Not less than sixty million Americans experience it at least once in a month; fifteen million of them experience it every day. This was gleaned from one of the reports from American College of Gastroenterology.

Acid reflux may make you feel a sour taste in your mouth especially at the back of your mouth. Acid reflux could be that chronic that it can sometimes make you experience difficulty in swallowing. In some brutal cases, asthma can develop.

 

Causes of acid reflux

The gastrointestinal tract has been so designed in such a way that food flows in one direction the moment it is put in the mouth and swallowed. At the different junctions that transits to another organ is a ring of tissues called, sphincters (otherwise called valves). They are muscular in nature. They can open and close but in one direction. Now, at the junction where the esophagus and the stomach meet is a sphincter named lower esophageal sphincter. Like I had already submitted, the gastrointestinal tract is a one-way traffic. It is the sphincters at the different junctions that make it so. Once food passes from the esophagus to the stomach, the sphincter closes against the esophagus at each swallow. Anything can happen to this sphincter and make it not to close well when food passes through it. When this happens, contents of the stomach, including gastric juice, escape through this valve (sphincter) into the esophagus. The gastric juice is acidic. And the esophagus was not designed to accommodate acidic content. That is why you will feel that burning sensation. It is a reaction of your esophagus to a substance that does not suit it.

The sphincter can be opened temporarily by a stretch to the stomach. Heavy meals, carbonated drinks, coffee, chocolate, obesity, stress, hiatal hernia etc. can all make the sphincter to open for a short while.

N/B: In a hiatal hernia, part of the stomach is projected up through the diaphragm.

If you are predisposed to experiencing an acid reflux with some certain foods, avoiding such meals will take care of that. If you sit up straight while and after eating, you can minimize your symptoms.

 

Acid reflux

Photo Credit: Young Essential Living Oils in Malaysia – Team Essence

 

Types of acid reflux

Acid reflux can either be occasional or chronic. An acid reflux will be termed chronic if it is experienced not less than two times a week.

Infants, children, and adults can experience it. There is only a slight difference in how they each might experience it. For instance, kids below 12 usually will not have a burning sensation in their upper chest or throat. They will rather experience difficulty in swallowing, dry coughs, a voice loss, and asthma. Adults can also experience any of these.

 

Infant Acid Reflux

Not less than half of all babies will experience an acid reflux within the first three months of their postnatal life as reported by the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC).

Your pediatrician will always assist you in differentiating between normal acid reflux and GERD.

Normal acid reflux symptoms in babies are outlined below;

  1. Spitting
  2. coughing
  3. Vomiting
  4. Discomfort
  5. Irritability
  6. Arching your back during or just after a meal.
  7. Poor feeding

These symptoms are hardly harmful to babies and will usually disappear on or before their eighteenth month birthday. It will become a GERD beyond this time and the symptoms to expect are;

  1. Failure to gain weight
  2. Poor appetite.
  3. Breathing issues.
  4. Vomiting copiously.
  5. Spitting up of brownish or greenish fluid.

If you notice any of these symptoms in your baby, kindly seek a pediatrician’s help.

To manage these symptoms, your pediatrician may suggest that you;

  1. Burp the baby a couple of times when you are feeding him.
  2. Give the baby smaller meals frequently.
  3. Keep the baby in an upright position thirty minutes after a meal.
  4. Give the baby up to a tablespoon of rice cereal and 2 ounces of infant milk.
  5. Change the baby’s diet if you are breastfeeding and that will include changing the formula.
  6. Some OTC (over-the-counter) drugs can help to control the symptoms. You need to find this out from your doctor.

Sometimes, a pediatric gastroenterologist will be suggested to you. As the case present itself, further diagnosis might be necessary.

 

Reflux Esophagitis

 

Esophagitis is an inflamed condition of the esophagus characterized by an irritation. In reflux esophagitis, the inflammation is due to acid backflow from the stomach to the esophagus. Damage to the tissues of the esophagus can occur and it becomes chronic.

 

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)

It is the advanced form of acid reflux when not attended to on time. It can be experienced by anybody. What makes it a GERD is the characteristic inflammation it causes on the tissues of the esophagus and its frequency of occurrence. Its average occurrence is twice a week.

Its typical symptoms are;

  1. Feeling of your heart burning.
  2. Food regurgitation.
  3. Challenges in swallowing food.
  4. Feelings of excessive fullness.

It is especially important to see your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms. Also, report any case of using reflux medications or over-the-counter drugs such as antacids two weeks and above.

 

Long-term outlook of acid reflux

No one has reported having loved the feelings and symptoms that come with a reflux. However, these symptoms can be alleviated. You can do this by;

  1. Quitting smoking.
  2. Reducing your knack for consuming alcoholic beverages.
  3. Avoiding diets that can trigger a reflux attack i.e. eat less fatty diet.
  4. Shedding off some weight if you are overweight.
  5. Alternating different sleeping positions.
  6. Anti-reflux drugs to prevent acid reflux.
  7. Taking antacids when the symptoms show up.
  8. Going for a surgery when it has progressed to chronic and degenerative cancer.

Most people having reflux will typically not experience long-term health issues. However, GERD can predispose affected people from having a permanent alteration in the tissues of the esophagus. The esophagus in this altered state is what is called Barrett’s esophagus. It even makes them be at a very high risk of developing cancer of the esophagus. Although this case is quite rare as statistics from the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) submits that 10 in every 10,000 people will have it in a space of 10 years.

Esophageal endoscopy will be resorted to in chronic GERD patients that have refused to respond to all forms of treatment. The lining of such people will be examined under a special type of microscope for changes in the esophageal tissues. Cancer of the esophagus will also be diagnosed with this procedure. Upon diagnosis of the presence of cancer, prompt remedial actions will be undertaken by the doctor to ensure the case is put under control.

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