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Acid Reflux: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

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Acid reflux is more common than you might think and can happen to people of all ages. Find out what it is, the causes, symptoms and treatment options here.

You may have heard of acid reflux being referred to as heartburn, but it’s important to note that they’re two very different things. Heartburn is actually something that occurs as the result of acid reflux. Where it can feel alarming, it’s quite common for people of all ages to experience acid reflux symptoms from time to time, but if it’s happening to you more often, it can be a cause of concern.

Keep reading to find out exactly what acid reflux is, the common causes and when you should see your doctor for treatment.

woman sitting on a bench holding chestWhat is acid reflux?

At the entrance to your stomach, you have a valve which is a ring of muscle known as the oesophageal sphincter. It opens to allow food into the stomach and usually it closes again, but if it doesn’t close completely or opens too often, strong acid from the stomach can move into the oesophagus. This stomach acid is responsible for breaking down food and protecting against harmful pathogens, but it can irritate your oesophagus and cause acid reflux symptoms.
If it happens more than twice a week, it may be acid reflux disease which is also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GERD).

Acid reflux causes

Acid reflux can affect people of all ages. The most common causes are related to lifestyle issues, but there are also certain medical issues that may put you more at risk too.

Medical causes of acid reflux:

  • Hiatal hernia: where there’s a hole in the diaphragm which allows the upper part of the stomach to enter the chest cavity
  • Medications such as: asthma medications, antihistamines, calcium-channel blockers, painkillers, sedatives and antidepressants
  • Pregnancy: extra pressure is placed on the internal organs, leading to an increased risk of acid reflux

However, sometimes the cause of acid reflux may be due to a weak sphincter muscle or even the stomach producing too much acid and not enough protective mucous.

Lifestyle causes of acid reflux:

  • Consuming too much alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Lack of physical exercise
  • Consuming too much caffeine
  • Eating too much table salt
  • Not eating enough fibre
  • Consuming too many large meals
  • Lying down between two to three hours, post-meal
  • Eating chocolate
  • Drinking fizzy drinks
  • Drinking acidic juices

Acid reflux symptoms

woman sitting on sofa holding chestMany people will experience acid reflux symptoms differently and they can range from mild to severe. The most common signs you may experience are as follows:

  • Heartburn
  • A sour taste in the back of your throat
  • Regurgitating food
  • Indigestion
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sore throat
  • Feeling bloated
  • Needing to burp consistently
  • Feeling sick
  • Cramping
  • Bad breath
  • Hiccups

Symptoms are generally more common when lying down or bending over after eating, after consuming a large quantity of food or after a fatty or spicy meal. Additionally, acid reflux symptoms tend to be more common at night as lying down makes it easier for stomach acid to move up towards the chest.

Acid reflux treatment

The first thing to consider with acid reflux treatment is simple lifestyle changes. Here’s some of the changes you could try at home to relieve your symptoms:

  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals
  • Losing weight
  • Raising your chest and head between 10 – 20cm when in bed so that they’re level with your waist, preventing stomach acid from travelling up toward your throat
  • Avoiding foods which trigger acid reflux symptoms
  • Avoiding eating at least four hours before bedtime
  • Avoiding clothes and belts which are too tight around the waist
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Stopping smoking

Most people can manage acid reflux symptoms with lifestyle changes, but if symptoms are too strong and consistent, you may need to see a healthcare professional for treatment.

When to see a doctor for acid reflux

woman in a pink tshirt sitting on a bench holding chestIf you’re only experiencing acid reflux symptoms a couple of times a week, it may be worth talking to a pharmacist. They can recommend antacids which can help ease the combined symptoms of heartburn and acid reflux. If over the counter medications alongside lifestyle changes don’t seem effective or if you have heartburn most days or other symptoms such as food getting stuck in your throat, sickness or weight loss, see your GP as soon as possible.

If you need to visit your GP for your acid reflux, they may prescribe proton pump inhibitors such as omeprazole or lansoprazole to reduce how much acid your stomach makes. If the cause of the acid reflux is not immediately obvious, you may be referred for a gastroscopy which is where a thin tube with a camera gets passed down your throat to identify what’s causing your symptoms.

It’s quite rare, but in extreme cases where acid reflux symptoms are affecting your daily life and don’t seem respond to any form of medication, sometimes a keyhole operation called a laparoscopic fundoplication may be recommended to stop the stomach acid from travelling into the oesophagus.

That’s our guide to acid reflux symptoms and the potential causes. Want to find out more facts about the digestive system? Read our guide on the most common digestive problems, next.


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