What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GERD), happens when stomach acid and food or fluids come back up into your esophagus. It can be an occasional problem, or you can have repeated symptoms in the form of a chronic condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Acid reflux is a digestive disorder that affects many people, from infants to older adults. You can get GERD at any age. It happens when the muscle at the bottom of your esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter, allows stomach contents to move upward.
Feeling heartburn is quite common. You may notice it after eating an especially big meal. About 20 out of 100 people in Western countries experience heartburn or acid reflux in their life. But if you have constant or severe heartburn and acid reflux, you may have GERD.
Acid reflux can be painful and may be triggered by certain situations. While it often feels like heartburn, other symptoms include:
- An unpleasant sour taste in your mouth
- Recurring cough or hiccups
- Hoarse voice
- Bad breath
- Bloating and feeling sick
These symptoms can become worse if you lie down or bend over after eating. While anyone can have acid reflux, certain conditions make it more likely that you’ll experience it:
- Being overweight
- Being pregnant
- Some medications like benzodiazepines, calcium channel blockers, certain asthma medicines, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and tricyclic antidepressants
7 home remedies for acid reflux
If you are experiencing recurrent acid reflux symptoms, there are remedies you can try at home to alleviate your pain and prevent future episodes. Seven home remedies for acid reflux include:
Avoid certain food and drinks
You can still eat a lot of your favorite foods if you have acid reflux. However, there are certain things that are more likely to induce acid reflux than others. Some foods and drinks you should avoid include:
You don’t have to give these foods up completely, but it’s a good idea to see if eating less of them improves your reflux.
Eat smaller meals
You may experience acid reflux more frequently after larger meals when the stomach is full. Smaller meals spaced throughout your day can help minimize your chances of having acid reflux.
Take it slow after eating
After you eat, try to remain in a seated position or go for a walk. Lying down after eating can send acid up into your esophagus. Try to finish eating at least 3 hours before going to bed.
Find the right sleeping position
The best sleeping position to reduce acid reflux is having your head 6 to 8 inches higher than your feet. Stacked pillows usually don’t provide enough support, so try using a foam wedge to prop up your upper body instead.
Make lifestyle changes
Your doctor may suggest that you try to lose weight to relieve your acid reflux. Increased weight can weaken your lower esophageal sphincter which allows acid into your esophagus. Nicotine can also relax the lower esophageal sphincter. If you smoke, it may be time to kick the habit.
Check your medications
Some medications like postmenopausal estrogen, tricyclic antidepressants, and NSAIDs may cause heartburn and acid reflux.
Eat the right foods
Incorporating these foods into your diet may help your overall acid reflux pain:
- High fiber foods like oatmeal, brown rice, sweet potatoes, carrots, beets, and green vegetables make you feel more full and help keep your meals small.
- Alkaline foods like bananas, melons, cauliflower, fennel, and nuts have a higher pH and can help offset strong stomach acid.
- Watery foods like celery, cucumber, lettuce, watermelon, broth-based soups, and herbal tea can help dilute your stomach acid.
Risks and outlook
Acid reflux or GERD may be a lifelong condition that you have to manage. If your symptoms don’t improve with home remedies and lifestyle changes, you may need to see a doctor.
Your gastroenterologist will make a diagnosis and determine a treatment plan. You may have to take an acid reducer to relieve your heartburn and pain.
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National Health Service: "Heartburn and acid reflux."
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Heartburn vs. Acid Reflux (Differences and Similarities)
Heartburn and acid reflux are not the same thing. Heartburn is actually a symptom of acid reflux. Heartburn gets its name because it feels like a burning sensation around the heart. Another symptom that occurs with heartburn is a bitter or sour taste in the mouth, usually when you eat or lye down. Heartburn affects more than 60 million people in the US at least once a month. Acid reflux, or GERD, occurs when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus, which irritates it. Heartburn is just one symptom of acid reflux. Other symptoms of acid reflux include:
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- Abdominal bloating
- Upset stomach
- Reflux laryngitis
- A tightness in the throat
- Problems swallowing
- In some people, vomiting
Causes of acid reflux and heartburn include:
- Being obese
- Slouching (poor posture)
- Medications like calcium channel blockers, theophylline, nitrates, and antihistamines
- Foods and drinks like caffeine, citrus fruits and vegetables, alcohol, and chocolate
- Increase in stomach acid
- Eating a heavy meal
- Eating before bed
The treatment for heartburn and acid reflux is to treat the underlying cause, for example, GERD, with over-the-counter (OTC) medicine, prescription medicine, natural remedies, and lifestyle changes like a eating a healthy, less fatty, spicy diet, not eating big meals, not eating before bed, and getting regular exercise to improve your posture.
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American College of Gastroenterology. "Acid Reflux." 2017.
familydoctor.org. "Heartburn." Updated: Mar 2014.
National Library of Medicine; PubMed Health. "Heartburn and GERD: Treatment options for GERD." Updated: Nov 18, 2015.
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