- What Is
- Foods and Drinks That Help
- When to See a Doctor
- GERD Symptoms
- GERD Signs
- GERD Causes
- GERD Diagnosis
- GERD Treatment
What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux occurs when the contents of your stomach move up into your esophagus. When this happens, you may feel a burning sensation in your chest, which can move into your throat. This is known as heartburn. If you experience acid reflux more than twice a week, you may have a condition known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), a condition that affects about 20% of people in the United States.
Common symptoms of acid reflux include:
- An uncomfortable burning feeling in your chest, which may move up toward your throat
- A sour taste at the back of your mouth
- You may throw up some of the contents of your stomach into your mouth
- If you have gastroesophageal reflux disease, you may find it hard to swallow or breathe
Acid reflux occurs because the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is weak or doesn’t close properly. Certain situations can trigger acid reflux such as:
- Acidic foods
- High-fat foods, especially fried foods
- Spicy foods
- Eating too much
- Certain types of medications like aspirin, ibuprofen, blood pressure medications, and sedatives
- Tobacco use
People with certain conditions are also at an increased risk of experiencing acid reflux:
8 foods and drinks that help with acid reflux
While certain foods and drinks can trigger acid reflux, there are also several that can help to ease your symptoms:
1. Oatmeal and Whole Grains
Oat and other whole grains, such as whole-grain bread and brown rice, are full of healthy fiber, which promotes digestive health. Whole grains also help you feel fuller longer, which can reduce the risk of overeating.
Ginger has natural anti-inflammatory properties that can help to reduce the symptoms of acid reflux. Many people also use it to ease stomach upset and indigestion.
3. Lean Meats
Lean meats, such as chicken, turkey, and certain types of fish, are lower in fat than other types of meats and can help to reduce the symptoms of acid reflux. Tofu is also an excellent low-fat protein source.
Vegetables, particularly green ones such as broccoli, green beans, asparagus, and leafy greens, can help to lower stomach acid, which can help with acid reflux. They’re low in factors that can trigger symptoms, including fat and sugar.
5. Noncitrus Fruits
Citrus and other acidic fruits can trigger acid reflux. Certain noncitrus fruits such as bananas and melons can help to ease your symptoms. Bananas coat the lining of your esophagus, which can reduce irritation. Melons are high in magnesium, a mineral found in many over-the-counter antacids that helps to neutralize stomach acid.
6. Herbal Tea
Green and black teas contain caffeine, which, like coffee, can trigger acid reflux symptoms. Certain types of herbal teas, on the other hand, can help alleviate your discomfort. These teas include chamomile, ginger, and licorice.
7. Plant-Based Milk
Full fat cow’s milk can trigger acid reflux. Additionally, many people have trouble digesting it. Certain types of non-dairy milk can help provide relief. For instance, almond milk is alkaline, so it can lower stomach acidity and ease symptoms. Soy milk is lower in fat than cow’s milk, making it a better alternative.
8. Coconut Water
Coconut water has electrolytes that can promote a better pH balance in your body, which helps to control acid reflux.
When to visit your doctor
Some people find relief on their own, without needing to see a doctor. If you experience symptoms of acid reflux two or more times per week, however, you may want to consider scheduling an appointment as this can indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease. Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist, who can perform tests such as:
- Barium X-rays: You drink a barium solution and then your doctor takes X-rays of your upper digestive tract
- Endoscopy: Your doctor inserts a camera into your esophagus to examine the tissue and take a small biopsy if necessary
- Biopsy: Your doctor takes a small sample of tissue from your esophagus to examine under a microscope
- Monitoring your pH levels: Your doctor monitors the acidity of your stomach
Seeking treatment for chronic acid reflux is important. Untreated, gastroesophageal reflux disease can lead to cancer of your esophagus. Other complications of untreated gastroesophageal reflux include:
- Inflammation in your esophagus (esophagitis)
- Permanent changes to the lining of your esophagus (Barrett’s syndrome)
- Chronic cough or breathing issues such as asthma
- Dental issues such as enamel erosion, cavities, and gum disease
Symptoms of acid reflux can also mimic symptoms of other serious conditions, such as:
Again, schedule an appointment with your doctor to rule out other issues and get an accurate diagnosis. With proper treatment and lifestyle changes, you can keep your acid reflux under control and live a normal life.
What are the symptoms of GERD in adults?
If you've ever enjoyed a spicy dish or eaten a large meal at your favorite restaurant, you've probably experienced a form of gastroesophageal reflux, or GER.
Typically called acid reflux or acid indigestion, GER occurs when the food and fluids in your stomach leak backward into your esophagus, causing irritation. The most common symptom is heartburn, a fiery sensation that builds up in your chest and throat.
Most of us experience occasional acid reflux. The problem occurs when GER becomes gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. GERD has more severe symptoms and can last much longer. Researchers estimate that around 20% of people in the United States have GERD.
Signs and symptoms of GERD
GERD typically starts as repeated episodes of acid reflux. As the disease progresses, symptoms become more painful and interfere more with your daily life. Sometimes, severe heartburn can cause sharp chest pains that can be mistaken for angina, which is chest pain that's caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart.
Other GERD symptoms include:
- Acid regurgitation (you can taste your food after you eat)
- Noncardiac chest pain (if you're unsure, see a doctor immediately)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chronic sore throat
- A "full" feeling in the back of the throat
- Coughing or wheezing
- Excess saliva
- Inflamed gum tissue
- Bad breath
- Acid erosion of your teeth
Causes of GERD
There isn't one single factor that causes GERD. When you eat, food travels past your throat and down the esophagus and ends up in your stomach. At the base of the esophagus, there's a ring of muscle fibers called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that prevents swallowed food from moving back up. If the LES doesn't close properly, the contents of your stomach can leak.
The severity of GERD depends on the individual. If you constantly have reflux and it damages the esophagus, you may experience more intense symptoms.
Factors that may increase the likelihood of getting GERD include:
Some medications can also cause GERD, including:
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When you visit your doctor, be prepared to spend time talking about your medical history and symptoms. There are plenty of over-the-counter (OTC) medications designed to relieve acid reflux symptoms, but if there's damage to your digestive tract, your doctor may suggest diagnostic testing, including:
Upper GI endoscopy
Your doctor will sedate you, then use a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope to examine your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. He or she will check your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine, and take a biopsy if necessary.
Ambulatory pH/impedance monitoring
A thin probe is placed into your nose and threaded through the esophagus. It's connected to a data recorder that measures both acid and non-acidic reflux that travels into your esophagus.
Catheterless pH capsule
A pH sensor is attached to the wall of your esophagus during an endoscopy. The data is transmitted to an external recorder via radio waves, providing information on acid reflux.
Treatments for GERD
Treatment options for GERD include:
- Lifestyle and dietary changes
- OTC and prescription medication
- Endoscopic therapy (treatments performed with an endoscope)
Lifestyle and dietary changes that may alleviate your symptoms include:
- Losing weight if you are obese
- Avoiding foods that increase acid in your stomach, like citrus fruits
- Avoiding high-fat foods, alcohol, and peppermint, which lower the pressure in your esophagus
- Not eating large meals
- Quitting smoking
- Not lying down immediately after eating
- Elevating your head when lying down
If these measures don't help, the next step is medication, including:
OTC antacids can work if you don't have reflux often. They don't stay very long in the stomach, however, and they don't heal inflammation.
Medications called histamine 2 (H2) blockers help lower stomach acid levels. H2 blockers can heal erosions in your esophagus.
These drugs block acid production and suppress it more effectively than H2 blockers. PPIs heal more severe conditions like esophagitis, which is an inflammation of the esophagus.
Prokinetics are medications that enhance the muscles of your gastrointestinal tract, but they typically aren't as effective as PPIs. Your doctor may prescribe them in addition to an H2 blocker or other acid-suppressing medication.
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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:
- Nausea after eating
- A feeling of fullness during or after eating
- 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.
Sometimes a heart attack can mimic heartburn and acid reflux because they feel very similar. If you have symptoms of chest pain, tightness in the chest, heartburn, acid reflux, jaw, tooth, or head pain; shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, sweating, discomfort in the upper middle of the abdomen, arm or upper back pain, or the general feeling of being ill, go to the nearest Emergency Department immediately because these are the symptoms of a heart attack.
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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