When this happens, an acid reflux occurs and so does heartburn. Heartburn is the most common symptom of this condition, but there are numerous other signs that can occur too.
This is not an extremely serious condition and it can be handled with a medicine for acid reflux. For some people, a short course of acid reflux is sufficient to handle this condition when they start experiencing severe symptoms, while others may need a long-term medication to avoid the symptoms.
What is Acid Reflux?
In order to answer the question ‘what is acid reflux’, we should first elaborate on what the purpose of the esophagus and the stomach is. When people eat, they pass the food down the esophagus and into the stomach. The stomach has cells in its lining that produce chemicals among which is also the acid, which help the food digestion. Additionally, these cells produce the mucus, which protects the stomach from the produced acid.
The cells of the esophagus are different from those in the stomach. Since the stomach is the one producing the acid, it has somewhat of a protection from it, but the esophagus does not. Therefore, when the acid enters the esophagus, symptoms start occurring.
Right at the junction between the two, there is a band of muscle called a sphincter. This is a circular band whose purpose is to allow the food down and stop it from coming up. The sphincter relaxes when the food needs to move from the esophagus to the stomach, but tightens up when it tries to come up. Also it tightens up to prevent the acid from leaking up. Sometimes, when this band cannot tighten up enough, the acid enters the esophagus and acid reflux occurs.
So, the acid reflux is a leak up or reflux of the acid from the stomach into the esophagus. Oesophagitis, on the other hand, is an inflammation that occurs in the esophagus’ lining. The majority of cases of oesophagitis are a result of an acid reflux that irritates its lining.
The esophagus is not as weak as it may sound since it can actually cope with a certain, small amount of acid. Still, the lining of the esophagus is somewhat more sensitive in some people, so there are those who are more at risk of developing symptoms even if they have only minor reflux.
The chronic version of acid reflux is called GERD. GERD or gastroesophaegal reflux disease is the chronic variant of the acid reflux condition. In this case, the acids and other stomach contents back up to the esophagus and irritate its tissues frequently and chronically.
Many people have indigestion and heartburn at a certain period. In most cases, this is a result of extra spicy nutrition. However, there are cases when this burning occurs more often and without any specific reason. When heartburn occurs more than twice a week, the patient probably has a chronic acid reflux or GERD. For the majority of cases, this chronic condition can be managed with over the counter medications and some lifestyle changes.
In the US, there are approximately 20% of the entire population that suffer from chronic acid reflux or GERD. Statistics show that between the years of 1998 and 2005, the hospitalization for this condition has increased for over 200%.
The truth is, even though there are only 20% of the population who suffer from chronic acid reflux, everyone can develop GERD. There is no specific age group or ethnicity group that is more at risk for developing GERD. Some studies do indicate that more of the patients of GERD are actually women, but this is not proven. The percentage of people who have the chronic variant of acid reflux increases from year to year, making it impossible for scientists to determine who is more at risk.
The problems with the medications that are used by acid reflux patients is that they do not treat the conditions, but the symptoms. It does not really matter how many medications one is taking since the symptoms are very likely to come back, especially if the patient is suffering from GERD. When people have chronic acid reflux issues, they are at risk of developing a drug dependency.
Interestingly, there is a study from the Stanford’s Esophaegal and Small Bowel Disorder Center that declines the fact of spicy food triggering the acid running up to the esophagus. According to the director of this center, there are only few people who suffer from acid reflux because of food.
Additionally, acid reflux is known to cause insomnia and sleep apnea. Even if patients can actually fall asleep with the symptoms of acid reflux, some studies have shown that the condition can ruin the quality of sleep and cause serious disorders such as the case of sleep apnea.
There is one group or people who are considered to be at higher risk for developing this condition, according to recent research. People who have an Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS are more likely to develop acid reflux. According to the World Journal of Gastroenterology, these two gastrointestinal issues are part of the same spectrum of diseases.
Finally, there are some concerning studies that say that people who suffer from chronic acid reflux are at bigger risk of developing cancer of the esophagus. The link is yet not determined, but this is becoming a concerning matter.
So, how should you deal with the acid reflux? Apparently, if you do not treat it, it can lead to serious conditions. However, if you do, some medications can result in serious side effects that include heart disease, bacterial infections and fractures in women in postmenopausal stage.
Without any treatment, the chronic acid reflux or GERD can lead to serious health problems such as:
- An inflammation of the esophagus called esophagitis. When this condition is chronic, patients are at higher risk of developing cancer in the esophagus.
- When one suffers from GERD, they may experience some respiratory problems. These problems occur when the person breathes the acid into the lungs, which in term will irritate both the lungs and the throat. When this happens, the person may experience asthma, chest congestion, long-lasting cough, voice box swelling, short-term voice loss, partial voice loss, recurring lung infection and wheezing.
- An esophageal stricture can occur when the esophagus in a person’s body becomes narrower than it is supposed to be. This can lead to serious swallowing issues.
- GERD can also cause a condition called Barrett’s esophagus. This is also something that, in few cases, can lead to a rare type of esophagus cancer.
If you are experiencing acid reflux symptoms occasionally, there is probably nothing to worry about. However, if these symptoms occur often and for no apparent reason, you should immediately consult your doctor.