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Acid Reflux

Symptoms and treatment of acid reflux

Acid reflux (also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD), is the slight regurgitation of stomach acids. When we eat, the sphincter (a circular muscle at the bottom of the esophagus) opens to allow food to pass through. With acid reflux / GERD, this muscle fails to constrict properly, thus allowing the acid to back up. This acid travels up through the esophagus, where it can cause erosive esophagitis (swelling and wearing away of the lining of the esophagus) and damage to your throat, vocal cords, sinuses and teeth. It can even cause esophageal cancer if gone untreated.

Your stomach has three layers: the outer layer, the middle layer and the inner layer. This inner layer contains parietal cells, which produce hydrochloric acid. While this acid is necessary for proper digestion of food, it is so volatile that it is also used in etching glass, and a mere drop of it can eat through wood. Imagine this gas being forced through your esophagus over a long period of time.

Symptoms

Symptoms of acid reflux include:

  • Frequent heartburn
  • Constant belching
  • Bloating
  • Sour or bitter taste in the mouth
  • Chest pain (that may mimic a heart attack)

While some acid reflux suffers also experience neck and back pain, it is important to note that this does not occur in all instances. Pain of this nature could also be a sign of cardiac disease and should not go unattended.

Acid Reflux in Babies

Acid reflux can begin as early as infancy, and is best recognized as "spitting up." This sometimes occurs when an air bubble forms in the esophagus, and can also be the result of overeating. While this is normal in most infants, excessive spitting up should be reported to your doctor. This is of particular importance if the child fails to show any weight gain, projectile vomits, or if the vomit is of an unusual color.

Prevention

To prevent acid reflux you should avoid:

  • Overeating
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Chocolate
  • Tomatoes and tomato-based products
  • Fried and fatty foods
  • Eating before bedtime

Treatment

Although there is no cure for acid reflux, it can be treated. There are a number of over-the-counter medications that treat the disease, but it's important that you read the labels and choose one that contains omeprazole. This is a proton pump inhibitor and is the most widely used and the most efficient. In the event of a severe attack, you can take one teaspoon of sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) in a glass of warm water. This remedy should be used sparingly, however, as it can affect your body's electrolytes if used in excess.

As with all drug regimens, none should be administered without first consulting your doctor. Sudden chest pain could be the sign of a more serious condition and should be reported immediately to your medical care provider.

By Tara Rijon

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