What is Acid Reflux? - GERD Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

Reflux 101 (Part I) Understanding Acid Reflux and Finding Relief


When you’re experiencing acid reflux, nothing is more important than relieving your symptoms. The heartburn, bitter taste and other indications can affect your home life, work life and basically your whole life. Our goal is to give you the tools to experience some relief and get your life back to normal.

What exactly is acid reflux?

Let’s take a quick tour of the upper digestive tract to answer that question. Right above your stomach is a small valve called the LES, or lower esophageal sphincter. Normally, the LES only opens up to let food in and let air out (a.k.a burps). For most people, acid reflux occurs when the LES opens and lets stomach acid and semi-digested food flow back into the esophagus. Heartburn (which, by the way, has nothing to do with the heart) is caused by the acid eating away at the lining of the esophagus.

What causes acid reflux?
Diet, weight, stress, what you eat, when you eat, how much you eat, exercise, smoking, and genes, are just a few of the things that can cause acid reflux flare-ups. Body position, such as lying down or bending over, can also lead to an episode. Pregnancy can cause acid reflux as well, called gestational acid reflux. The growing baby creates less room for your stomach and the hormone progesterone causes muscles, like the LES, to relax.

Acid reflux vs. GERD
As an acid reflux sufferer, you may be familiar with GERD. However, if it’s an unfamiliar acronym, then here are some helpful things to know. GERD stands for gastro-esophageal reflux disease. If you experience acid reflux two or more times per week, you may have GERD.

Is it serious?
Everyone experiences acid reflux – an occasional episode is normal. However, GERD can be serious because of the acid that lingers in your esophagus. Over time, lingering acid causes inflammation and can create a precancerous condition known as Barrett’s Esophagus. That’s not meant to scare you, but it’s important to know what you can do to be proactive.

Acid Reflux Treatments

The three mainstream ways to treat acid reflux/GERD are lifestyle changes, medication and surgery. Lifestyle changes are always the first consideration. If that doesn’t work, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter or prescription medications. As a last resort, surgery may be necessary.

Lifestyle Changes

There are many adjustments you can make that will help reduce acid reflux symptoms:

  • avoiding trigger foods

[The known culprits are citrus fruits, onions, garlic, tomato-based products, spicy and fatty foods, fried foods, chocolate, peppermint and caffeinated and alcoholic beverages - some of these foods may not bother you while other foods not listed here may cause a reaction. It’s trial and error to finding which foods trouble you the most.]

  • losing weight
  • eating smaller meals
  • not eating within a couple hours of lying down
  • sleeping on an incline

You can also try eating slowly, avoiding water and other fluids at meal time, drinking plenty of water in between meals, taking short walks to help food settle and chewing gum after a meal (avoid minty flavors).

While everyone has their own tips for treating acid reflux/GERD, the only two methods that are supported by objective clinical data are weight loss and sleeping inclined. Taking into account that weight loss happens over a period of time, it’s a relief to know there’s a validated method that can be put to use immediately.

Multiple clinical studies support a drastic reduction in acid reflux exposure simply by sleeping inclined. Consider that acid clearance time (the time that it takes your body to naturally clear acid from the esophagus) can be improved by 67% when sleeping propped up at an angle. Some studies show a reduction in total number of reflux episodes in this position. And an additional study states that 65% of people report less sleep disturbances.

Given that we developed an all-natural sleep system that goes beyond reducing acid reflux to helping you sleep soundly and comfortably, we hope you’ll consider MedCline as part of your overall strategy. Over the years, we’ve listened closely to feedback from physicians and reflux sufferers to develop the most effective, comfortable and practical treatment possible.

Next time, in Reflux 101 Part II, we’ll review medications as treatment options and some side effects to consider. And remember, lifestyle changes are the first line of defense in reducing your exposure to stomach acid and finding reflux relief .

References:

  1. Brown, et al. Incidence of Adenocarcinoma of the Esophagus Among White Americans by Sex, Stage, and Age. J Natl Cancer Inst 2008;100: 1184 – 1187.
  2. DeVault KR, Castell DO. Updated guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease; American College of Gastroenterology. Am J Gastroenterol. 2005 Jan;100(1):190-200.
  3. Ronnie Fass. ‘PPI Bashing’ Drives Use of Alternatives. gastroendonews.com, Sept. 2011.
  4. Lundell L, et al. (2007). Seven-year follow-up of a randomized clinical trial comparing proton-pump inhibition with surgical therapy for reflux oesophagitis. British Journal of Surgery, 94(2): 198-203.
  5. Khan BA, et al. Effect of bed head elevation during sleep in symptomatic patients of nocturnal gastroesophageal reflux. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2012 Jun;27(6):1078-82.
  6. Johnson LF, DeMeester TR. Evaluation of elevation of the head of the bed, bethanechol, and antacid foam tablets on gastroesophageal reflux. Dig Dis Sci 1981;26:673-80.
  7. Hamilton JW, Boisen RJ, Yamamoto DT, Wagner JL, Reichelderfer M. Sleeping on a wedge diminishes exposure of the esophagus to refluxed acid. Dig Dis Sci 1988; 33: 518-22.
  8. Stanciu C, Bennett JR. Effects of posture on gastrooesophageal reflux. Digestion 1977;15:104–9.
  9. Khoury R, Camcho-Lobato L, Katz P, et al. Influence of spontaneous sleep position on nighttime recumbent reflux in patients with gastroesophageal reflux disease. Am J Gastroenterol 1999;94:2069 –73.