Overview – What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux can be described as a commonly occurring condition where the contents of the stomach (food/liquid) rise up from the stomach and flows back up into the food pipe or oesophagus. The reason behind this occurrence is because the opening to your stomach (the lower oesophageal sphincter (LES)) tends to stay open for longer than usual or doesn't close all the way after food passes through it. The primary role of the LES is to function as a valve between the oesophagus and stomach thus helping prevent any food contents from flowing back into the oesophagus. Acid Reflux can affect people of all ages—from infants to older adults.
One of the main symptoms experienced during an acid reflux attack is the feeling of a burning sensation around the heart region – especially after eating. It also needs to be highlighted that acid reflux and heartburn are not the same things. As a matter of fact, heartburn is actually considered to be the primary symptom of acid reflux – characterized by a stinging and burning pain which is usually felt in the lower part of the mid-chest, behind the breast bone.
Furthermore, Acid reflux should not be mistaken for Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) either. Although it can be said that they are closely linked, they don't necessarily mean the same thing. GERD can be described as a more severe form of acid reflux and can occur frequently – once or twice a week and can vary in severity from moderate to severe.
As per a study conducted by The American College of Gastroenterology, it was revealed that over 60 million Americans experience some form of heartburn at least once a month, and nearly 15 million experience it on a daily basis. Although acid reflux has always been perceived as a western phenomenon, cases of acid reflux have been on a rise in India as well. As per a recent study conducted by the Indian Society of Gastroenterology, the prevalence of acid reflux has risen to 7.6 percent in the six Indian cities covered in their study.
There are several factors that can lead to acid reflux. While risk factors include obesity or overweight, connective tissue disorders – such as scleroderma, being pregnant, a condition called hiatal hernia characterized by a distinct bulge appearing at the top of the stomach extending into the diaphragm, etc. Besides the risk factors, there are some common triggers which can cause discomfort including:
Here are symptoms associated with Acid Reflux.
It needs to be mentioned that if the above-mentioned symptoms have started to cause any interference with your daily life, it is time to see your health care professional at the earliest.
Although acid reflux is a common complaint, there are instances where it can be confused with other chest-related illnesses, including:
In order to diagnose acid reflux accurately, there are several tests which include:
Risks and complications
If left untreated, Acid Reflux can lead to serious complications in the long term –
Esophageal stricture or narrowing of the esophagus owing to the damage caused by the acid of the stomach thus causing scar tissue to form. This, in turn, can lead to difficulties in swallowing as the scar tissue narrows the food pathway.
Barrett's oesophagus: a serious complication where repeated damage from acid can lead to changes in the cells and tissues lining the lower oesophagus. These changes have the potential to develop into cancerous cells and are associated with an increased risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Esophagitis: Continuous exposure to stomach acid can damage the lining of the oesophagus causing it to become inflamed leading to irritation while eating, bleeding, and oesophagal ulcer to form in some cases. Even esophagitis is linked with a higher risk of cancer and people suffering from acid reflux are likely to be predisposed to carcinoma of the esophagus.
If you are suffering from acid reflux, taking preventive action can help fix it before it escalates into something serious like GERD. In that regard, making a few tweaks to your lifestyle is the first step towards fixing acid reflux. Some recommended measures include:
In the case of severe problems, surgery may be recommended.
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