What is Acid Reflux Disease?

What is acid reflux disease? Acid reflux disease which is also referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease is a condition whereby the stomach contents flows back to the esophagus. Considering the fact that these contents are acidic due to the impact of dilute hydrochloric acid in the stomach, they may cause damage to the esophagus resulting in irritation, heartburn and general discomfort. When the condition is allowed to continue for a long time, one may be facing the risk of contracting serious conditions such as esophagitis as well as esophageal cancer.

Causes and risk factors of acid reflux

After chewing and swallowing the food, it gets to the stomach after passing through esophagus. When the food particles are in the stomach, they mix with stomach acids and other stomach juices that aide in digestion. These stomach contents are prevented from flowing back in to the esophagus by a ring of fiber muscles referred to as lower esophageal sphincter also known as cardiac sphincter muscles. In any condition that will inhibit the functioning of these sphincter muscles will result in acid reflux.

There are many conditions both external and internal that expose one to increased risk of developing this condition. These are the risk factors and they include such things as smoking, obesity, Scleroderma, alcohol and Hiatal hernia. Hiatal hernia is a condition where the stomach lies above diaphragm. It has also been observed that pregnant women are at a very high risk of developing GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). There are some medications that have been associated with increased risk of GERD. These medications include Anticholinergics used in treatment of seasickness, beta blockers used in treatment of heart diseases or hypertension, bronchodilators used in the treatment of asthma, calcium channel blockers used in treatment of hypertension, dopamine drugs used to treat Parkinson’s disease, progestin used as birth control and also in the treatment of abnormal menstrual cycles, sedatives used to treat anxiety and insomnia and tricyclic which is used as an antidepressant. If you develop regular heartburn when you are taking certain medication, it would be advisable to talk to your doctor to determine if its that medication that is resulting in your condition.

Symptoms of acid reflux

The major symptoms of this condition includes…

The feeling that there is food stuck in the esophageal area behind the breastbone.

Nausea which occurs after taking your meal.

Heartburn which causes a burning sensation on the esophageal region under the breast bone. The heartburn may have such characteristics such as worsening during the night, its relieve when you take antacids and it appears to get worse when you lay on your back or when you bend forward.

Other symptoms may include change of voice or hoarseness, difficulty in swallowing (disphagia), coughing or whizzing, regurgitation (food particles coming back to the mouth), hiccups, excessive salivation and sore throat. In the advanced stages of this condition, the patience may experience bloating, bloody vomit and stool and weight loss.

Signs and tests for acid reflux

If you do not have severe symptoms, you may not need any tests. However, if you are suffering from severe symptoms such as bloating and bloody vomit, several tests can be conducted. The tests help to diagnose the condition and any other possible complication. The tests may include;

Esophagogastroduodenoscopy– This test is carried out to examine the esophagus for any damages. During the test, a thin tube with a small camera is inserted through the mouth to the esophagus.

Barium swallow test – This test will also help to examine any damages to the esophagus. The doctors will administer barium and then carry out a series of x-rays. Barium allows the damaged parts to become more visible. This test will take between 3 hours and 6 hours.

Esophageal PH monitoring – This test establishes the frequency and period through which stomach contents flows back to the esophagus. During the monitoring period, a thin tube will be inserted through the nose or mouth and goes all way down to the stomach. It will then be pulled back until it is in the level of esophagus. The tube is supposed to remain in that position for a period of up to 24 hours. The tube is connected to a monitor making it possible for PH monitoring to be done in real time.

Esophageal manometry– This test measure the pressure on the lower end of esophagus. During this test, a pressure sensitive tube is inserted to the stomach through the nose or mouth and esophagus. Once in the stomach, the tube will be pulled back to the esophagus. After ensuring that the tube is in the right place, the doctor will ask you to swallow. It is during swallowing that the pressure in different sections of esophagus will be measured. The test will take about 1 hour.

Stool occult blood test – This test is used to diagnose a severe esophageal condition where there are blood spots on your stool.

Treatment of acid reflux

There are various treatment options to acid reflux which are determined by the severity of the condition. These treatment options may involve lifestyle changes, using natural products and also using various medicines.

Change of lifestyle – it may involve practices such as avoiding foodstuffs that causes you heartburn, avoiding certain medicines that are used to relieve pain for example aspirin, acetaminophen, naproxen and ibrofen. Every time your doctor prescribes new medication, you should ask him if they will worsen you heartburn condition.

Use of medicines – There are several over the counter medicines that you can use to relieve acid reflux i.e. antacids. There are also other prescription medicines that are used to treat GERD which includes proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers.

There is also surgery option for patients whose condition keeps on recurring even after lifestyle changes and taking medication.

Complications

It is important to note that if acid reflux is left untreated for a long term it will cause damage to the esophagus. This damage could lead to severe complications such as;

Reflux esophagitis – This is a condition where ulcers develops at the junction of esophagus and the stomach,

Esophageal strictures – This is the narrowing of esophagus resulting from the inflammation of the esophagus caused by acid reflux,

Berrett’s esophagus – Prolonged exposure of esophagus to stomach contents may make the esophagus to assume the color and shape of the stomach. When this is allowed to go on for a long time, it may lead to cancer.

After understanding what is acid reflux disease, one will be in a good position to protect himself from the condition and also to seek the right treatment measures if it strikes. Just like other medical conditions, acid reflux should be treated early before in develops in to severe complications.

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