Time for a Tums®? If you have ever experienced a bout of acid reflux – then you know the burning, painful, discomfort and heartburn that occur, especially after a large meal. If you feel a burning sensation just behind your breastbone in between your ribs following a meal, and whether it lasts for a few minutes or a few hours – your physician might diagnose you with heartburn.
Sometimes, acid reflux can feel like chest pain – such as when you recline or bend over. Some people also report feeling a burning in the back of their throat, and if gastric reflux is very severe, an individual might perceive an acidic, hot, and maybe even sour fluid in the throat. This can make it difficult to swallow, and may cause an ongoing cough or sore throat or both.
Another indicator that you may be experiencing acid reflux, or heartburn, is the feeling a food getting lodged or sticking in the mid-chest area. Drinking water immediately can help in that situation. So what causes these uncomfortable and often painful symptoms?
Causes of Acid Reflux
Pressure within your stomach causes a small amount of stomach acid to creep up into your esophagus. As we know, stomach acid is very strong, with a pH between 1-2, and stomach acid can break down proteins and kill harmful bacteria with this high acidity. When this highly acidic fluid in the stomach, called gastric juice, splashes or seeps into the upper part of the stomach and into the esophagus, it can be very painful, and burn the tissues that it touches.
One of the causes of acid reflux is eating too much, and an overfull stomach will not be able to hold all of the contents within itself. Another cause is extra weight, as belly fat causes the stomach to be pushed upward into the chest cavity. Acid reflux often occurs during pregnancy for the same reason.
Overproduction of stomach acid in response to spicy foods can also cause some of the symptoms of heartburn. The good news is-you can get rid of heartburn and acid reflux. And usually your tissues will heal and repair themselves without too much major damage. If you don't take action to reverse your acid reflux, serious problems can result, such as esophageal bleeding and ulcers, a condition called Barrett's esophagus, strictures, and acid reflux can increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer.
Losing weight is the number one way to help decrease acid reflux. This allows for a more natural anatomy of the joining between the esophagus and the stomach. The reduced pressure on the stomach from extra weight can reduce the amount of acid that splashes into the lower esophagus. Losing weight typically means you are eating less, which can help shrink the size of the stomach slightly, to help avoid overfilling the stomach in order to feel full.
Certain foods can trigger acid reflux in some individuals, like tomatoes, hot and spicy foods like peppers, hot sauce, and horseradish or wasabi paste. Some individuals report acid reflux symptoms after consuming high-sugar liquids such as apple juice, sports drinks, or other sugary fruit juices. Overeating in general can cause heartburn, so make sure you watch your portion sizes, eat a little slower, and chew your food carefully.
Foods to choose that typically do not aggravate acid reflux are the same foods that are excellent for losing weight, improving blood pressure, and reducing your cancer risk. These foods include fruits and vegetables that are not highly acidic, such as foods from the melon family, berries, pears, and apples. Tomatoes can often be a trigger food for acid reflux, so it's a good idea to avoid these for a while. Vegetables that are non-starchy, such as broccoli, cabbage, leafy greens, kale, spinach, zucchini, yellow squash, and carrots are good choices to help reduce acid reflux.
Drinking plenty of water is a must- as a decreased fluid volume means your stomach acid may become too acidic. Water can help dilute the acidity of the stomach and is a quick cure for a bout of acid reflux that creeps up surprisingly.
Treatments for acid reflux
Antacids-like Tums®-and another type of treatment called H2 receptor blockers-like Prilosec® and Nexium®-are the most commonly used over the counter treatments for acid reflux. While these treatments do typically work and can help decrease the acidity of the stomach, there is a risk of long-term use of these medications.
Medications like Prilosec® work to decrease your body's internal production of hydrogen ions, which are the ions that make stomach acid so acidic. However, your body requires stomach acid in order to break down proteins, produce factors that help you absorb vitamin B12 and release iron from foods. Over time you could develop a vitamin B12 and/or iron deficiency, which can cause anemia. Anemia is a condition where you have decreased ability to carry oxygen via red blood cells, and the symptoms include fatigue, malaise, and decreased blood flow and oxygen levels.