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Acid Reflux

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Acid reflux is the actual process of acid from a person's stomach traveling up the esophagus. This is often chronic and is caused by a number of things such as stress, diet and even some medications. Acid reflux can cause many things such as severe chest pain, heartburn, hoarseness, asthma and even regurgitation. It is often confused with heartburn, which is the actual feeling caused by acid reflux. In many cases, acid reflux is a chronic condition that is treated with medication and a change in diet or environment. Some acid reflux occurs when one is pregnant or is obese. The condition can be made worse in the night when lying down or when bending and stooping. It can also occur when one is eating. Once the cause is discovered for the patient, there are a variety of natural and medical remedies for its symptoms.

Causes, Risk Factors and Complications

Acid reflux occurs when there is a backup of stomach acid into the esophagus. Typically when a person swallows, the circular band of muscle known as the esophageal sphincter relaxes so that food and liquid can flow from the esophagus into the stomach. This band is supposed to close again once food or liquid has passed through. Acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter is relaxing abnormally or weakening, which allows stomach acid to flow up into the esophagus, causing the feeling of heartburn. The backup of acid can be exacerbated by bending over or lying down, but it may also affect a patient while sitting up or moving.

When acid reflux occurs on a frequent basis or begins to interfere with a persons normal routines, it is referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. When acid reflux is not treated properly by a medical professional, GERD may result and chronic acid reflux needs to be treated in order to prevent damage to the esophagus. Damage from chronic GERD or acid reflux can cause severe damage to the esophageal lining, which is why working with a physician to treat the problem is essential.

Signs, Symptoms and Tests

The symptoms of heartburn, acid reflux and GERD are all the same. They begin with a burning feeling in the chest that typically begins after eating or at night. This pain may worsen when the person is lying down or bent over as these positions cause more acid to spill into the esophagus. When acid reflux symptoms occur more than twice weekly or the symptoms persist despite treatment with over the counter acid reducers, then it is time to see a physician for medical assistance.

In order to determine if the symptoms are reflecting occasional acid reflux or something more serious such as GERD, a physician will utilize several different types of examinations. These may include passing a flexible tube into the throat known as endoscopy, X-ray of the upper digestive tract, ambulatory acid probe tests and esophageal motility testing to determine how much acid is in the esophagus and to measure the esophagus movement.

Treatment, Drugs and Prevention

Acid reflux is treatable using both over the counter and prescriptions medications. Physicians may recommend antacids to neutralize the stomach acid in the esophagus, medications to reduce the production of acid and medications that completely block the production of acid to allow for healing of the esophagus. Some of these medications are available over the counter, but physicians often recommend stronger dosages available by prescription, especially in the beginning stages of treating a severe acid reflux problem.