Many of us have suffered the uncomfortable sensation of heartburn from time to time – that burning feeling in the chest that can last from a few minutes to several hours after eating. Many people will assume it’s acid reflux, which if only occasionally experienced, could well be.
However, if you find you get heartburn quite often, it could be a more chronic condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) which also has heartburn as a symptom but carries more serious consequences, if not treated.
What Is The Difference Between GERD and Acid Reflux?
Knowing the difference between GERD and acid reflux is important because the occasional bout of heartburn could just be triggered by certain foods but GERD is much more serious and could cause swelling in the oesophagus together with frequent heartburns that last longer and won’t go away with over-the-counter remedies. If acid is continuously in contact with the lining of the oesophagus, it will cause bleeding, ulcers and scarring.
Acid reflux occurs when the muscle situated between your stomach and oesophagus, known as the lower oesophagal sphincter (LES), becomes weak. Its purpose is to close off the oesophagus after the food has passed to the stomach and any weakness in the muscle can increase the risk of stomach acid getting exposed to the oesophagus. Acid reflux is when the stomach acid moves backwards and burns the delicate lining of the oesophagus causing heartburn.
GERD happens when the lining of the oesophagus is extremely sensitive and starts to cause other symptoms such as feelings of regurgitation, chest pain, trouble swallowing, ulcers and dry coughs. If you find you experience heartburn more than twice a week, it would be advised to seek a medical consultation to find the root cause of the heartburn.
How Can I Deal With Acid Reflux?
There are many factors that can increase the chances of acid reflux. Pinpointing these can help to relieve symptoms and stop acid reflux altogether.
- Diet: Probably the most common cause is the types of food and drink we consume. Fizzy drinks, alcohol and fatty foods can all contribute to acid reflux. Also consuming big portions in one sitting or lying down after eating can allow acid to enter the oesophagus more easily.
- Smoking: Lighting up those cigarettes on a regular basis can cause the mucus membranes to get damaged and, in turn, increases acid production. It also reduces saliva production in the mouth which normally neutralises the acid.
- Weight: Having excess fat on our bodies puts a huge strain on our organs and the efficiency at which they work. Being overweight or obese puts pressure on the stomach and increases the chances of acid reflux occurring.
- Hiatal hernias: These can happen to anyone at any age. It’s when part of the stomach squeezes up into the chest through an opening in the diaphragm. No one quite knows what causes a hiatal hernia but it can be dealt with by eating smaller portions, avoiding lying down after eating and removing certain foods or drinks that make the symptoms worse.
- Yoga: Yoga is something that can be attempted by anyone and can be extremely beneficial. Some believe certain yoga poses can help to lessen the chance of acid reflux.
What Can I Do If I Have Acid Reflux Regularly?
If you have chronic acid reflux, then the chances are it has developed into GERD and it is advised to seek medical assistance. Treatment for GERD is aimed at decreasing the amount of reflux or reducing damage to the lining of the oesophagus from refluxed materials. Extreme cases will see the use of prescription medication or surgery but simple lifestyle changes can help towards lessening the discomfort.
The treatment for acid reflux can be applied to GERD with special emphasis on the types of food and drink you consume. Anything that could potentially weaken the LES muscle including chocolate, peppermint, fatty foods, coffee, and alcohol, along with acidic products that can irritate such as citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, and pepper, should be avoided.
Experiencing the discomfort that comes with acid reflux and GERD should never be ignored so make sure you change your lifestyle or seek medical advice. Your quality of life is important and essential to your overall well-being and happiness.