If you regularly suffer from a frustrating burning sensation in your throat, you may have a gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) – also known as acid reflux. But with so much misinformation available online, knowing how to treat this common condition isn’t as straightforward as you’d think.
What is Acid Reflux?
According to Healthline, 15 to 30 percent of the U.S. population has GERD. This makes it one of the most common chronic digestive issues in the country. But how does it happen? Unbeknownst to most people, it actually begins in the stomach (not the throat).
“At the entrance to your stomach is a valve, which is a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES),” WebMD explains. “Normally, the LES closes as soon as food passes through it. If the LES doesn’t close all the way or if it opens too often, acid produced by your stomach can move up into your esophagus.”
Heartburn is the most common symptom of acid reflux. It’s a burning sensation or discomfort that occurs in the middle of the abdomen or chest and often radiates up into the throat. (Contrary to the term, it has nothing to do with your heart.)
Many people also experience regurgitation, which is the sensation of acid building up into the lower portion of the throat or mouth. This often leads to a bitter taste.
Finally, dyspepsia – or general stomach discomfort – is also present in many GERD sufferers. Symptoms of dyspepsia include burping, nausea, stomach fullness, bloating, and upper abdominal discomfort.
Although rarely serious, acid reflux symptoms should not be ignored. It can be a sign that the esophagus has become inflamed by stomach acid. In extreme cases, this can lead to physical damage and even cancer (Barrett’s esophagus). Proactively dealing with the underlying causes ensures acid reflux doesn’t snowball into a bigger issue than it already is.
4 Tips for Preventing and Treating Acid Reflux
When it comes to treating acid reflux, most people immediately turn to medication. And while acid reflux drugs are helpful for many people, they’re often not worth the risks and side effects. Zantac, for example, is the most popular and widely used over-the-counter heartburn and acid reflux medication.
Unfortunately, it’s been shown to contain small amounts of a carcinogen called N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA). Exposure to significant amounts of NDMA has been known to cause damage to the liver and potentially lead to cancers of the liver, stomach, colon, and gastrointestinal tract. While the FDA has yet to recall the drug, Zantac lawsuits are mounting.
Over-the-counter drugs can be effective in treating the symptoms of acid reflux, but you’re much better off dealing with the underlying causes. Here are some ways you can prevent GERD form occurring in the first place:
1.Eat Smaller Meals
Acid reflux can occur when there’s too much pressure on the LES. One of the best ways to reduce this pressure is to avoid overeating. Instead of consuming two or three large meals per day, try eating five to seven smaller meals/snacks. This is much easier on your digestive tract and will mitigate the severity of heartburn and other unwanted symptoms.
2. Lose Weight
Excess weight puts undue pressure on the abdomen and pushes the stomach up toward the throat. This causes acid to reflux into the esophagus. Losing weight makes a huge difference for many people.
3. Limit Alcohol and Coffee Intake
GERD sufferers were once warned against eating anything but the blandest foods. While this is no longer the recommended course of action, there are certain food items and ingredients that trigger acid reflux in individuals. Alcohol and coffee are particularly problematic. Spicy foods, fatty foods, mint, onions, garlic, tomatoes, and even chocolate trigger symptoms in certain people.
4. Sleep on an Incline
Gravity can work for or against you. When going to sleep, try elevating the head of your bed to keep acid from easily refluxing into the esophagus.
“If you regularly experience heartburn while trying to sleep, place wood or cement blocks under the feet of your bed so that the head end is raised by 6 to 9 inches,” MayoClinic suggests. “If you can’t elevate your bed, you can insert a wedge between your mattress and box spring to elevate your body from the waist up. Raising your head with additional pillows isn’t effective.”
Freedom From Acid Reflux
As anyone who suffers from chronic GERD or occasional acid reflux knows, the pain and discomfort of heartburn, regurgitation, and dyspepsia is both frustrating and debilitating. But by tackling the issue at the source, you’ll find that it’s possible to live a life free of discomfort.