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Acid Reflux Causes

Acid reflux can be treated with over-the-counter remedies and prescription drugs.

Smoking can cause acid reflux. [© Shutterstock, 2010]
© Shutterstock, 2010
Smoking can cause acid reflux.

Acid Reflux Causes

Spicy, high-fat and acidic foods are common acid reflux causes. Another cause of acid reflux, also known as heartburn, is a medical condition in which the esophageal sphincter muscle is weakened, allowing stomach acid to go up through the esophagus. According to the American College of Gastroenterology, more than 15 million Americans experience heartburn symptoms every day.

Causes of Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is caused by stomach acid traveling backward into the esophagus, resulting in a burning sensation behind the breastbone or in the throat. The esophageal sphincter, a muscle at the base of the esophagus, opens to allow food to pass down into the stomach, then closes. If the muscle weakens and remains open, it can allow stomach acid to flow back up.

Some people experience a sour or bitter taste in the throat from the acid. Burning symptoms and pressure in the chest may persist for several hours. The severe form of acid reflux is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The burning sensation of acid reflux often feels worse lying down, bending over or sleeping after eating a large meal.

Foods that can trigger acid reflux include chocolate, coffee, fried foods, ketchup and mustard, orange juice, tomato juice, peppermint and soft drinks.

Acid Reflux Symptoms and Diagnosis

Many people experience acid reflux following a spicy meal. Mild cases of heartburn are temporary and are treated with over-the-counter medication, such as antacids. Symptoms of severe acid reflux or GERD include difficulty swallowing, vomiting blood, blood in the stool, a choking sensation and unexpected weight loss.

According to HealthCentral, GERD occurs at least once a month in about half of American adults. Anyone is susceptible to GERD but occurs more severely in the elderly. Pregnant women may experience heartburn later in their term as the baby gets bigger and puts more pressure on the stomach.

Acid Reflux Treatments

Non-medicinal treatments for acid reflux include diet and lifestyle changes. Eating low-fat, low-acid and non-spicy foods will cut down incidents of acid reflux. Quitting smoking, refraining from sleeping for two hours after eating and drinking alcohol in moderation are also effective lifestyle changes. The Mayo Clinic advises acid reflux sufferers to avoid tight-fitting clothing, to eat smaller meals during the day and to lose excess weight around the abdomen that can put pressure on the stomach. Sufferers are also advised to elevate the head while sleeping or elevate the entire bed so the head is higher than the feet.

Over-the-counter medications like antacids and non-prescription-strength H2 blockers are effective for mild and infrequent symptoms of acid reflux. These medications, however, do not treat or heal a damaged or weakened esophageal sphincter muscle. The American College of Gastroenterology recommends that those who take an over-the-counter medication for acid reflux more than twice a week on a regular basis should consult a physician.

For severe acid reflux and GERD, prescription medication includes famotidine (Pepcid AC), cimetidine (Tagamet HB) and ranitidine (Zantac 75). Prescription-strength H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole (Prilosec), may contribute to the healing of a damaged esophagus.

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