Acid reflux, also familiar to many of you as severe heartburn and to the medical community as GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), stems from the fact that I have suffered from it for almost all of my adult life.
My interest in acid reflux disease
For the first few years, I had no idea what it was, only that my stomach and esophagus would burn something awful for hours after eating. In those days, the only acid reflux treatments that were offered were things like Tums and Mylanta which didn’t really help me and seldom relieved my symptoms. It never occurred to me, or my doctor, to try changing what I ate.
Eventually, I found a doctor who began prescribing medications and I started to educate myself about the condition primarily from articles that would occasionally appear in magazines and newspapers. Okay, so here’s how old I am. This was all before there was such a thing as the World Wide Web i.e. the internet, Google, WebMD, Wikipedia, etc. There was no way to do the kind of research we take for granted today where a few clicks can bring up massive amounts of information on just about anything.
Some medical talk
It’s probably a good idea to provide just a little medical information about the condition. The definition of acid reflux is when stomach acid gets pushed up into the esophagus, the tube that carries food and drink from your mouth to your stomach. Although it is normal and harmless for this to happen as burps and belches and it usually has no serious symptoms. But when it happens too frequently it burns the inside of the esophagus then you have a serious problem. It is estimated that 15-20% of all adults have some form of acid reflux or GERD.
Heartburn is the most common form of acid reflux, a painful, burning feeling in the chest or throat. About 20%-40% of people diagnosed with heartburn have the more serious form known as GERD. One of the ways this happens is that the diaphragm, a muscle located above your stomach doesn’t strengthen as it is supposed to and thus doesn’t close the sphincter muscle properly and allows the stomach acids to back up into esophagus. Ouch!
What can cause acid reflux?
If you research the literature, you will find many theories to go along with many remedies. Studies show, among other things:
- Being overweight puts pressure on the diaphragm which causes it to not function properly which is one reason pregnant women suffer from the condition.
- Some scientists suggest that undigested carbs remaining in the stomach too long cause too much bacterial growth and thus bloating and gassiness.
- Alcohol. Some studies show that drinking wine and beer increases reflux symptoms by increasing stomach acid and relaxing the lower sphincter thus impairing its ability to clear out the acid.
- Eating too fast, eating certain foods. Eating a large meal and then lying down.
- Certain drugs. Such as:
- Pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin) and aspirin
- Blood pressure drugs called calcium channel blockers
- Antihistamines for allergies
- Sedatives, including benzodiazepine
- Certain antibiotics, including tetracycline
- Oral osteoporosis drugs
- Stress and anxiety also appear to play a role but exactly why and how is another subject of studies and discussion.
There are a variety foods which typically cause acid reflux. Here are just a few:
- Citrus bothers some people but not others
- Bananas. These affect everyone differently and for me they were one of my most avoided foods. For others, they are recommended as a cure. Go figure.
- french fries and other deep-fried foods. (sorry fired chicken lovers)
- potato chips
- whole milk. It took me years to finally be convinced that milk, cheese, ice cream were causing me distress
There many others that the experts recommend staying away from and for most people it is a trial and error process. Most the things we really love, comfort foods, are some the worst ones to eat. No more hot pastrami and cheese with Russian dressing and cole slaw. That one is a real killer!
Some Treatments for acid reflux disease
There are a variety of ways to treat acid reflux disease, everyone reacts differently. First of all, if you are having a serious problem you may need to consider life-style changes having to do with what you eat, how much eat, when you eat and even how you sleep. As you can see from the above list, it’s really all about food.
Most people start off with various over the counter antacids which can be effective at least for a while. These include Mylanta, Rolaids and Tums. My experience has been that one thing works great for a while and then stops working and I had to find something else. Here are the typical drugs that are usually prescribed:
- Foaming agents (Gaviscon) coat your stomach to prevent reflux. This is over the counter and I’ve been using it for years either before I eat or afterwards when I would start to feel the reflux starting. It usually works within an hour or so. It is pill that you chew up and swallow, very chalky and doesn’t taste that good but you get used to it
- H2 blockers (Pepcid, Tagamet, Zantac) decrease acid production. These are three over the counter meds most people use and they are available in generic form for a lot less money
- Proton pump inhibitors (Prilosec, Prevacid, Protonix, Aciphex, Nexium) also reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes. These are the prescription meds for when it really gets bad.
There are also natural remedies that work well for some:
- Organic Apple Cider Vinegar boosts the immune system, aids digestion, and decreases the number of bad gut bacteria that cause acid reflux disease.
- Fennel Seeds.
- Aloe Vera. This is my favorite and I will be providing more information
about this one in a future post
I’ll conclude this post by pointing out that acid reflux disease, also known as heartburn and GERD is a serious condition which afflicts millions of people. If left alone it can create serious problems in the throat, esophagus and stomach. The pain is usually such that not many of us can ignore it and seek some sort of treatment.
Please leave me your comments or questions by clicking on the “comments” link on the left side at the beginning of the article. I will be sure to get back to you.