Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common chronic disorder caused by the acid in your stomach flowing back up into the esophagus. It is usually caused by a failure of the muscle valve (the lower esophageal sphincter) between the esophagus and the stomach to close properly.
There are more than 3 million cases of acid reflux each year in the US alone. Most people can manage the discomfort of GERD with certain lifestyle changes and OTC medications. But others could need stronger medications or even surgery to ease the symptoms. It usually occurs at night when people are laying down.
Symptoms of Acid Reflux
The most common symptoms of GERD include:
- heartburn (a burning sensation in the middle of your chest)
- chest pain
- an unpleasant taste in your mouth
- regurgitation of stomach contents
- swallowing difficulties
- bad breath
Considering that this condition is extremely common, it’s not always certain what causes it. There are many factors that can increase the risk and contribute to one getting GERD, and some of them are:
- stress and anxiety
- certain food and drinks (such as coffee, alcohol, fizzy drinks, spicy or fried food)
- eating large meals or late at night
How to Cure Acid Reflux at Home
Seeing your GP is the first recommendation when dealing with any health concerns, but there are some lifestyle and dietary adjustments you can make to help alleviate symptoms. It can take up to 6 weeks for acid burns to heal, so don’t stop the medication or lifestyle and dietary modifications without talking to your doctor first. It can take up to 3-4 months for a full resolution.
- Eat small, frequent meals – large meals put a lot of pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter and could allow contents from your stomach to enter the esophagus, which would cause irritation and pain. Eating slowly and chewing thoroughly is very important, since chewing is the first step in the digestion process and can keep heartburn at bay.
- Try maintaining a healthy weight – small weight losses of 5% can make a huge difference in relieving symptoms.
- Elevate the head of the bed – raise one end of the bed up to 20cm by placing something under your mattress – make it so that your head and chest are higher than the level of your waist, which will prevent stomach acid to progress up toward your throat.
- Stop smoking
- Do not eat at least 3-4 hours before going to bed – avoid lying down right after a meal, because when you do that, it is easier for the stomach acid to flow into your esophagus.
- Avoid or limit food and drinks that trigger acid reflux – common triggers include chocolate, tomatoes, citrus food and juices, garlic, peppermint, coffee and fatty foods.
- Chew gum – chewing gum stimulates the production of saliva and increases the rate of swallowing. After the saliva is swallowed, it neutralizes the acid in the esophagus. This is definitely worth a try after your meal.
- Write down your triggers – keeping a journal of the things that irritate your stomach can help you remember what to avoid in your day-to-day life.
Even though no alternative medicinal therapies have been proved to treat acid reflux or reverse damage to the esophagus, some herbal remedies might provide some relief, but they should only be considered after consulting your doctor. Chamomile and licorice are sometimes used for GERD. Also, different relaxation techniques could help with relieving symptoms, since stress and anxiety are one of the things that aggravate acid reflux. These include exercising, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery.
How to Cure Acid Reflux with the Help of Your GP
If none of the abovementioned modifications and changes help, seriously consider going to your GP. Tracking your symptoms and what irritates your GERD could help your doctor figure out which is the fastest route to your recovery. Some of the options your doctor might recommend include:
Antacids for GERD
They neutralize the acid in the stomach so that there is no acid to reflux. The problem with them is that they leave your stomach quickly, usually in less than an hour, which means that the relief is very brief. Overuse of antacids could cause side effects, like diarrhea and, in more severe cases, kidney problems.
These medications reduce the production of acid. They include famotidine, cimetidine, ranitidine and, nizatidine. They are not as fast-acting as antacids but can provide extended relief that lasts up to 12 hours.
Proton Pump Inhibitors
They block the secretion of acid into the stomach by the acid-secreting cells. PPIs are more powerful acid blockers than histamine antagonists and give more time for damaged esophageal tissue to mend. Some of the over-the-counter ones are omeprazole and lansoprazole.
GERD can usually be controlled with medications. In case they don’t help or you wish to avoid long-term medication use, your doctor might suggest fundoplication. This is a procedure in which the surgeon wraps the upper curve of stomach to tighten the muscle and stop the reflux. It can be done using a technique called laparoscopy, which is minimally invasive.
Having acid reflux or GERD is obviously a very widespread problem due to our chaotic and stressful lifestyles. It can be an irritating and unpleasant problem, but if you tweak your habits, it can be easily resolved. Do not be afraid to consult your doctor while the symptoms are still mild and easily curable.
As with any health problem, if left untreated, it can cause severe complications that result in ulcers, inflammation of the lungs and larynx, asthma and more. But don’t be alarmed, since there are many ways for you to cure acid reflux by just changing your daily routine. That will not only alleviate the symptoms of this particular condition but help you lead a healthier life in general.