8 Modern Medications That Cause the Age-Old Problem of Acid Reflux


Acid reflux is a common problem that can affect anyone at any age. It happens when the acids in your stomach go up your esophagus, causing discomfort or heartburn. If the occurrence of acid reflux becomes persistent, it becomes a long-term disorder called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Acid reflux can occur for several reasons. It can be due to eating a large meal consisting mainly of fatty foods. It can arise from structural problems in your digestive tract. It can also be a side-effect of certain medications.

If you suffer from acid reflux, you need to know how acid reflux occurs and what is causing it. This article will help you determine your triggers and provide you with tips on lowering your risk of acid reflux, too.

What is Gastroesophageal Reflux?

The esophagus or food pipe is a narrow muscular tube located below your tongue and ends with the upper part of your stomach. When you swallow food, the muscles in your esophagus contracts to push food into your stomach, a process called peristalsis. Once inside the stomach, gastric acids and enzymes break down the sugar, protein and fats into subcomponent nutrients. A thin layer of mucus protects your stomach from these acids.

Your esophagus does not have the same protective mucus from gastric acids as your stomach. This is where the lower esophageal sphincter comes in. It acts as a protective barrier to prevent your stomach’s content from going back up.

Your lower esophageal sphincter or LES is a band of muscle that separates your esophagus and stomach. It opens when you swallow, closes once the food has passed through the stomach and remains closed until you swallow again to prevent regurgitation.

Acid reflux, commonly referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD occurs when stomach acids or bile reflux into the throat, causing a burning sensation or heartburn. Since the esophagus does not have enough protection from these acids, they may burn your esophagus and causes damage and bleeding.

Acid reflux can occur for several reasons and may affect anyone. Moreover, experiencing acid reflux does not necessarily mean you have GERD. If it becomes persistent or occurs more than twice a week, consult your doctor.

You are having acid reflux if you experience these common symptoms:

1. Heartburn – the uncomfortable or painful burning sensation in your abdomen that can go up your chest and throat.

2. Vomiting – a sour or bitter-tasting acid goes up your throat and mouth.

Apart from these common symptoms you may also experience:

1. Bloating
2. Burping
3. Persistent Hiccups
4. Difficulty Swallowing
5. Black or Bloody stools
6. Nausea
7. Unexplained Weight Loss
8. Chronic Sore Throat

Symptoms may vary from person to person and may range from mild to severe.

What Causes Acid Reflux or GERD?

Acid reflux can occur for many reasons. Eating acidic foods and bending over or lying down flat after eating a larger meal are known to be causes of mild and temporary heartburn. However, if acid reflux occurs persistently, the reason might be something more serious such as biological and structural irregularities in the process of digestion.

A hiatal hernia, for one, is believed to cause acid reflux. It is a disease that occurs when the upper part of your stomach makes its way into the opening of the diaphragm and up to your chest. Theoretically, this abnormality may weaken the lower esophageal sphincter. However, there is not enough scientific evidence stating hiatal hernia is a common cause of acid reflux or GERD. But, if you suffer from GERD, having hiatal hernia may worsen the symptoms.

Other causes of acid reflux include:

Malfunction of the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) Muscles

The lower esophageal sphincter muscle may weaken and lose its normal function due to several factors including aging. After the food passes the sphincter to the stomach it may not completely close allowing the refluxing stomach acids to break into the gap.

Impaired Stomach Function

As one study showed, more than half of the participants with GERD had nerve and muscle problems in their stomachs leading to poor motility and slow stomach emptying. When the food stays in the stomach for a longer period, it can create pressure that pushes the stomach acid to go up the esophagus.


Sometimes, GERD can arise not from digestive function problems, but due to low acid levels in your stomach. Remember that stomach acids play a major role in digesting food. When you do not have enough stomach acids, digestion and stomach emptying may take longer, putting yourself at risk of GERD. Hypochlorhydria can be due to varied health problems, such as anemia, a vitamin B12 deficiency, various skin diseases and autoimmune diseases.

Food Allergies

When you eat foods you are allergic to; your body cannot totally break down the proteins and sugars into usable nutrients and compounds. This in return will cause allergic symptoms that include, bloating, frequent passing of gas and acid reflux.

Eating certain foods even when you are not allergic to it may also cause acid reflux. These foods include:

  • Coffee
  • Chocolate
  • Fatty Foods
  • Peppermint
  • Spearmint
  • Whole Milk

These foods relax the lower esophageal sphincter during digestion.


The growing baby inside your womb can take a huge space in your abdomen, creating pressure on your digestive organs, particularly your stomach and LES. The pressure will also push the contents of your stomach to go up the LES. Another theory that links pregnancy and GERD is that fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone may relax the lower esophageal sphincter more often.


weight increasesSeveral studies in the past have been cross-examined to determine the link between obesity and GERD. In 2003, researchers from Norway conducted a case- control study and the results showed an association between GERD and obesity. Obese men and women are more at risk for GERD compared to those with normal weight. But, the risk of developing GERD in the participants with normal weight also increased as their weight increases.

Although the mechanisms of obesity and GERD remains vague, researchers say the extra weight may put pressure on the stomach and may leave the lower esophageal sphincter partially open.

The findings of the study were supported by several other studies.

Alcohol Intake and Smoking

Certain types of drugs can cause GERD, and this includes alcohol and nicotine in cigarettes. Too much alcohol may cause GERD by delaying stomach emptying. The role of nicotine in GERD remains unclear but according to theories, nicotine can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter making it easier for stomach acids to pass through.


Studies show that people who suffer from chronic stress often complain of GERD symptoms. When you are stressed, your level of stress hormones cortisol increases. Cortisol is said to slow down digestion which may lead to symptoms of GERD.

In a different study, results showed that people who react to stressors aggressively are more likely to experience GERD symptoms as they secrete more gastric acid.

Genetic Factors

There is a high chance that you may inherit GERD from your genes. This may be because you have inherited the muscular and structural abnormalities in the digestive tract that contribute to GERD from your parents.

medicationsPrescription Medications

The medications you take to improve health conditions can also cause acid reflux or heartburn by slowing down digestion, irritating the esophagus and loosening your esophageal sphincter. Most times, acid reflux comes as a side-effect of these drugs.

Eight Medications That Can Cause Acid Reflux

Most times, you take medications without being aware of the possible side-effects. What you take for your illness might lead you to endure another health problem. Here are eight modern medications that cause acid reflux:

1. Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs are drugs used to relieve pain and inflammation especially in people with arthritis. They can effectively provide immediate relief, but they also have ill side-effects, such as stomach upset and ulcers.

NSAIDS can irritate the gastrointestinal tract in many ways, which can result in gastritis, bleeding ulcers or GERD. Although you can easily relieve your stomach upsets, there is no guarantee taking NSAIDs on a long-term basis will not cause you serious gastrointestinal problems after a time.

Here are some commonly used NSAIDs:

  • Aspirin
  • Ibuprofen (Advil)
  • Naproxen (Aleve)
  • Indomethacin (Indocin)
  • Piroxicam (Feldene)

You can buy these drugs over-the-counter, and this is why a lot of people are self-medicating to relieve pain from arthritis. If you are using one of these drugs for a long time now, you are putting yourself at risk for developing gastrointestinal problems.

2. Antidepressants

According to a study, patients who received antidepressant drugs have a higher risk of suffering from GERD and even those who took antidepressants for different purposes still have a higher risk of GERD.

Antidepressants relieve anxiety and at the same time may cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax, allowing the stomach acids to reflux. When you take them for a long time, the LES pressure will eventually weaken and increase the occurrence of acid reflux.

Examples of antidepressants are:

  • Amitriptyline (Elavil)
  • Doxepin (Sinequan)
  • Imipramine (Tofranil)

Other medications that relax the LES and may cause or worsen the symptoms of GERD include:

Anticholinergic Medications – These drugs treat nausea and relax the nerves that regulate the function of LES:

– Prochlorperazine (Compazine)
– Promethazine (Phenergan)

Sedatives or Tranquilizers – These medications slow down and relax the nerves that help your LES work:

– Diazepam (Valium)
– Temazepam (Restoril)

3. Hormone Replacements

menopauseWomen who suffer from menopause often undergo hormone replacement therapy to relieve menopausal symptoms particularly hot flashes. According to a cohort study, the components of hormone replacement therapy, estrogen, and progestogen, can affect gastrointestinal motility and may increase your risk of suffering from GERD.

Motility refers to the contraction of muscles to digest food. If you have reduced motility, foods will stay longer in your stomach and emptying will be delayed which may cause acid reflux.

4. Asthma Medications

Asthma and GERD are connected to each other. Asthma worsens GERD symptoms, and GERD worsens asthma attacks. The reason behind this remains unclear, but there are things between the two that are certain. When both problems occur, taking medications may not help alleviate the symptoms. Treating GERD symptoms separately may improve your asthma but taking medications for asthma may worsen GERD. This is especially true with the drug theophylline.

Examples of theophylline are:

  • Uniphyl
  • Theo-24
  • Theovent
  • Elixophyllin
  • Elixicon

If you notice the occurrence of acid reflux after taking your asthma medication, do not stop taking it. Be sure to ask your doctor first to avoid breathing difficulties.

5. High Blood Pressure Medications

high blood pressurePatients with high blood pressure often complain of GERD symptoms after taking their medications. High blood pressure medications relax the blood vessels and at the same time relax the muscles of the digestive tract. This in turn slows down the passage of food delaying digestion and stomach emptying.

Examples of calcium channel blockers, which are effective high blood pressure medications include:

  • Diltiazem
  • Verapamil
  • Nifedipine
  • Nicardipine
  • Nimopidine
  • Amlodipine
  • Nisoldipine
  • Isradipine
  • Bepridil
  • Felodipine

Toprol-XLBeta Blockers for high blood pressure also cause acid reflux and include:

  • Sectral
  • Tenormin
  • Kerlone
  • Lopressor
  • Toprol-XL
  • Corgard
  • Bystolic
  • Levatol
  • Visken
  • Inderal
  • Blocadren

High blood pressure can put you highly at risk for heart attacks and strokes. If you experience acid reflux or heartburn after taking these medications, do not stop taking them. Ask your doctor first.

6. Antibiotics

Taking antibiotics can kill both the bad and good bacteria including the bacteria in you gut. Good bacteria aids in the digestion process and the lack of them can upset the balance of your gastrointestinal tract. This may cause digestion issues and acid reflux.

Examples of antibiotics are:

  • Doxycycline
  • Tetracycline

You need to take antibiotics to ward off infections caused by bad bacteria. But remember that it can also kill good bacteria needed by your body. Take antibiotics only when you need to, and be sure to talk to your doctor about your acid reflux when taking them.

7. Potassium Supplements

potassium supplementsOne major role of potassium in the body is facilitating muscle functions, and it also aids in the production of acids in the stomach. If you take high amounts of potassium, the production of gastric increases, which may put you at risk for heartburn. However, it is important to remember that taking potassium supplements won’t cause heartburn. Taking excessive amounts of potassium increases your risk of an acid reflux occurrence.

8. Bisphosphonates

Bisphosphonates are given to both men and women to prevent bone loss due or osteoporosis. Patients who take oral bisphosphonates often complain of gastrointestinal problems including acid reflux. This is because bisphosphonates can irritate and burn the esophagus and LES and may weaken it over time. Healthcare professionals are aware of this effect, so patients are advised to take bisphosphonates with glass of water to ensure the pill won’t say in the esophagus for long,

All these medications may directly or indirectly cause you to experience acid reflux or GERD. It is important to remember that other people may react to these drugs differently than you do. If you suffer acid reflux and other GERD symptoms after taking these medications, do not stop taking them nor self-medicate with alternative drugs without consulting with your doctor.

What You Can Do to Prevent Heartburn

To reduce your risk of acid reflux and heartburn, follow these simple tips.

Chew Your Food Thoroughly. You may have heard your mother tell you to chew your food thoroughly when you were a kid. Mother knows best most of the time, and this is one of those times. When you chew your food, an enzyme called amylase triggered by the starches in your mouth will signal your stomach to release gastric juices. These juices also trigger the release of pancreatic enzymes necessary for digestion. Additionally, chewing your food into tiny bits makes it easier for your stomach to break them down.

Do not Lie Down After Eating. Gravity helps keep the food inside your stomach down. If you rest or lie down after eating, gravity won’t be able to keep the food where it should be. Take a slow walk or just remain standing to help the foods move along your stomach. In fact, some patients with GERD find relief by elevating their upper body when sleeping.

coffeeAvoid Your Food Triggers. Certain types of food can cause heartburn, especially fatty foods, acidic juices, carbonated drinks, dairy, wheat and coffee. To find out what foods trigger your temporary heartburn, try eliminating these foods in your diet for at least two weeks. Then try adding them again one by one and observe which food gave you heartburn.

Deal with Daily Stressors. Stress can mess with your digestion and worsen your GERD symptoms. Find ways to deal with daily stressors effectively. According to a study, those who react aggressively to certain situations are likely to experience acid reflux, so keep calm.

These simple tips do not guarantee that you won’t get heartburn. These are precautionary actions to lessen your risk of acid reflux.

Medications for Acid Reflux or Heartburn

Almost everyone will experience heartburn at one point in their lives. If you experience heartburn and acid reflux, you can relieve it with the following medications:

Acid Buffers – These drugs neutralize gastric acids and can be bought over-the-counter. Acid buffers include:

  • Mylanta
  • Maalox
  • Tums
  • Rolaids
  • Gaviscon

Acid buffers come in tablets and liquid solutions. Liquid forms work faster than the tablets.

Antacids – They regulate acid levels in your stomach. Antacids containing aluminum may cause constipation while antacids containing magnesium may cause diarrhea. Doctors often advise patients to take them alternately.

RanitidineH2 Blockers – These drugs limit the production of acid by the stomach. You may use H2 blockers for mild to moderate pain during heartburn. H2 blockers include:

  • Famotidine (Pepcid AC)
  • Cimetidine (Tagamet HB)
  • Ranitidine (Zantac 75)

You can buy these medications without the need for a prescription.

Proton Pump Inhibitors – These drugs are taken in to reduce long-term acid production in the stomach. Proton pump inhibitors include:

  • Omeprazole
  • Lansoprazole
  • Dexlansoprazole
  • Rabeprazole
  • Pantoprazole
  • Esomeprazole

Proton pump inhibitors are stronger than antacids and H2 blockers but take longer to work.

Motility Drugs – These drugs speed up digestion and are not used to treat acid reflux. It helps empty the stomach faster and lessen your risk of an acid reflux occurrence.

If you are taking other medications, read labels carefully to avoid drug interactions. You can also ask your doctor if these drugs are safe for you.

Should You Have Surgery for Your GERD?

If you suffer from severe and intolerable symptoms of GERD, surgery may be an option for you. Surgery is also an option if you have other medical conditions that can worsen GERD symptoms such as asthma, pneumonia and scarring in the esophagus.

laparoscopic surgerySurgery for GERD is called laparoscopic surgery. It is a minimally invasive surgical procedure where a surgeon will create a small incision in the abdomen to insert thin tubes inside. The abdomen will be filled with carbon dioxide gas, so doctors can get a full view of what is inside with a camera. Surgical tools and devices are specially made for this type of operation, which replaces traditional operating tools.

A type of laparoscopic surgery called nissen fundoplication is usually performed on GERD patients. An excess tissue in your stomach is transferred to the esophagus to aid the weakened esophageal sphincter.

Most patients who undergo nissen fundoplication are satisfied with the outcomes. However, the success rate of this procedure is lower in patients who cannot experience relief in taking anti-acid medications.

Acid reflux affects almost everyone. It can occur for several reasons; from the food you eat to various serious health conditions. Sometimes, the medications you take can trigger acid reflux, too. If you have acid reflux, be sure to talk to your doctor about it so you can find relief fast.


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