10 Signs and symptoms of acid reflux
Heartburn is one of the most common symptoms of acid reflux. People with heartburn feel a burning sensation inside their chest. Heartburn often occurs after consuming a meal. The feeling of heartburn can get more intense during the night.
The location of heartburn discomfort can cause some people to believe they might be having a heart attack. If symptoms of heartburn fail to clear up after taking medication, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Ten common symptoms that people with GERD or other forms of acid reflux experience include:
- Problems swallowing
- Pain in the chest
- The feeling of a lump in your throat
- Regurgitating food or sour liquids
- Sore throat
- Hoarseness or an inability to speak
- Chronic coughing
- Sleep disruption
- The onset of or worsening of asthma
What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux is a condition where acid from your stomach ends up flowing back up into your esophagus, the tube that connects the stomach and throat. Many people experience an occasional bout of acid reflux. Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a disorder where people experience some form of acid reflux at least once or twice per week.
GERD can develop in people of all ages. The following factors and conditions can also increase your chances of experiencing some form of acid reflux, including GERD:
- Those who may be carrying extra weight
- Pregnant women
- People who smoke regularly or people frequently exposed to second-hand smoke
- People taking medications that cause acid reflux as a side effect
- Individuals with a connective tissue disorder
- People who experience delays in emptying their stomach
Causes of acid reflux
When food enters the stomach, there is a valve at the end of the esophagus that should close upon its arrival. If that valve malfunctions, it allows acid to flow back up into your mouth and throat. That’s what causes the sour taste in your mouth when you experience acid reflux.
Some factors that could lead to the problems with the valve closing properly include:
- Having too much pressure placed on the abdomen
- Eating specific types of food (spicy, dairy, etc.)
- Your general eating habits
- A hiatal hernia, where the upper part of your stomach bulges into your diaphragm
When to see the doctor about acid reflux
You should see a doctor about your acid reflux if it gets to a point where it’s causing persistent discomfort in your daily life. The condition is not life-threatening, but you can end up with some serious complications.
GERD can lead to chronic inflammation in your esophagus. You could end up with the following conditions if you don’t receive proper and timely treatment:
- Esophageal stricture — An esophageal stricture forms when your lower esophagus ends up with damage from stomach acids, leading to scar tissue formation. The presence of that scar tissue causes your food pathway to narrow, which causes you to have trouble swallowing your food.
- Esophageal ulcer — An esophageal ulcer is a sore that develops when your stomach acid wears away the issue of your esophagus. It can start bleeding, which can cause pain and leads to problems with swallowing.
- Barrett’s esophagus — The damage caused in your lower esophagus tissue by stomach acid can induce changes that increase your risk of developing esophageal cancer.
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Diagnosis and tests for acid reflux
Doctors typically start by asking questions about your medical history and how long you’ve been experiencing symptoms of acid reflux. They usually move on to performing a physical exam. Your physician may also recommend other tests to determine whether you have GERD or another kind of acid reflux, like:
- Endoscopy — A thin, flexible tube gets inserted down your throat. The end contains a light and a camera, which allows a doctor to view the inside of the stomach and esophagus.
- Ambulatory acid (pH) probe test — Your doctor places a monitor into your esophagus to observe when your stomach acid regurgitates, and for how long. The monitor feeds information to a small computer worn around your waist or held up by your shoulder with a strap. It typically passes out of your body through stool after a few days.
- Digestive system x-ray — After drinking a special liquid that coats your digestive tract, your doctor takes x-rays that lets doctors see the outline of your stomach, esophagus, and lower intestine. Your physician may also ask you to take a barium pill that helps diagnose whether you have an esophageal stricture.
Treatments for acid reflux
Your doctor may recommend treating milder forms of acid reflux through a combination of lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medications. If you are diagnosed with GERD, the doctor may write you a prescription to help with the symptoms.
If lifestyle changes and medication fail to provide relief, a physician might recommend that you have surgery for acid reflux. Available surgical options for treating the condition include:
- Fundoplication - A minimally invasive procedure that involves wrapping the area around your lower esophageal sphincter to tighten that muscle, preventing reflux.
- LINX device - Your surgeon wraps a ring of small magnetic beads around the place where your stomach and esophagus meet. The magnetized beads' strength keeps that juncture closed but still allows food to pass to your stomach.
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Mayo Clinic: "Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)."
Mayo Clinic: "Heartburn."
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8 Foods and Drinks That Help with Acid RefluxWhat is acid reflux and how can you treat it at home? Learn the top foods and drinks that can ease your symptoms and help you find relief.
What Is Esophageal pH Monitoring?Esophageal pH monitoring is used to measure the reflux (regurgitation or backwash) of acid from the stomach into the esophagus and to diagnose gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Side effects of the procedure are few but may include mild discomfort in the back of the throat while the catheter is placed, and swallowing.
Fundoplication (Acid Reflux Surgery)Fundoplication is a surgical procedure for treating GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). The procedure is to help GERD symptoms including heartburn. Eighty percent of patients with GERD also have a hiatal hernia, and during the fundoplication procedure, the hernial sac may also be surgically fixed. The procedure can be done with laparotomy, thoracotomy, or laparoscopy.
GERD (Acid Reflux, Heartburn)GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) is a condition in which the acidified liquid contents of the stomach backs up into the esophagus. The symptoms of uncomplicated GERD are:
- regurgitation, and
Heartburn is a burning sensation experienced from acid reflux (GERD). Symptoms of heartburn include chest pain, burning in the throat, difficulty swallowing, the feeling of food sticking in the throat, and a burning feeling in the chest.
Causes of heartburn include dietary habits, lifestyle habits, and medical causes.
Treatments for heartburn include lifestyle changes, OTC medication,prescription medication, and surgery.
Heartburn Foods SlidesLearn the symptoms of heartburn and which foods cause heartburn or GERD. Discover home remedies and which foods may provide treatment for heartburn relief.
Acid Reflux (Heartburn, GERD): Symptoms & RemediesHeartburn is a symptom of acid reflux that causes chest pain when stomach acid backs up into the esophagus. Heartburn symptoms may mimic chest pain that occurs during a heart attack. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) may produce other symptoms.
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:
- 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.
How Can I Relieve Acid Reflux?Acid reflux refers to the condition in which the stomach contents move up into the food pipe (esophagus). When the acidic stomach contents leak frequently, more than twice a week over several weeks, into the esophagus, the condition is called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Treatment of acid reflux includes lifestyle and home remedies (eating small meals, not eating before bed, avoiding coffee and tea, etc.), medications, and surgery.
Ways to Relieve Acid Reflux (GERD, Heartburn)Most people have experienced some sort of pain or discomfort following a large meal or a particular food that didn’t quite agree with their stomach. Acid reflux symptoms can happen without a specific underlying condition.
What Are the 4 Types of Acid Reflux?Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a common stomach issue. The four types of acid reflux are mild, moderate, severe and the type that can lead to esophageal cancer.
What Is the Quickest Way to Get Rid of Heartburn?Taking antacids is considered the quickest way to get rid of heartburn. These over-the-counter medications help neutralize stomach acid. They are one of the first recommended treatments. They may provide quick relief. However, antacid overuse can cause problems such as diarrhea or chronic kidney disease, especially if they contain aluminum and magnesium.