You may have experienced some form of heartburn from time to time – maybe from a trip to your favorite Mexican restaurant or simply by over-indulging in greasy chips or French fries. But has heartburn become a major part of your life – to the point of excruciating pain and burning in your throat and esophagus on a daily basis? Do you experience such pain even if you avoid those “trigger” foods or beverages that usually cause it?
If so - what is happening? And can anything help?
If you have experienced any of these symptoms, you may have acid reflux, also known as Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease or GERD for short. And you’re not alone: over 10 percent of Americans suffer from acid reflux on a daily basis (I’m one of them!). Even more alarming, esophagus cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in the U.S.
But you’re also not alone in treating and eventually preventing this painful disease. There are many ways to address your symptoms and steps you can take to ward off acid reflux – and its consequences - in the future.
What Exactly is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid rises up from the stomach and gets into the esophagus, where it produces that telltale burning sensation that can reach from the bottom of your throat to the back of your mouth. This sensation may sting and leave a unpleasant taste for hours at a time. Acid reflux commonly strikes after a meal (especially if spicy food is on the menu) or when you lie down, potentially ruining your chances of getting a good night’s sleep and feeling rested the next day. Pregnant women are also more likely to experience acid reflux symptoms, and people who take oral contraceptives, aspirin, and/or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen and naproxen).
Treatment and Prevention
If you’re one of the lucky fifty to seventy-five percent of acid reflux sufferers who experience mild symptoms, over-the-counter antacids may make the problem go away. However, if you have a hiatal hernia (a hole in the diaphragm muscle that causes the stomach to protrude into the chest), it may be the source of your reflux woes. In severe cases of esophagitis (inflamed esophagus), acid reflux is also common. In these cases, a more aggressive form of treatment may be required.
Natural remedies are also an option: consider eating a banana, either straight from the rind or in powdered form, to take advantage of the compounds that suppress acid secretion, or licorice tablets, which contain flavonoids that regulate acid production and promote the development of the protective mucosal layer. Other natural options include gingerroot, a favorite folk remedy for spicy food side effects, and turmeric, a yellow spice used in cooking that prevents acid build-up.
If reflux worsens at night, consider raising the front of your bed by adding risers, or replace your regular pillow with a foam wedge. Both of these tricks raise the esophagus above the stomach, making it harder for the acid to get into the esophagus.
In general avoid wearing tight clothing, and don’t rush through meals. Always eat slowly, taking care to chew each bite thoroughly. A post-meal walk may also help you avoid reflux. Talk to your doctor if symptoms persist or worsen.
You can improve your acid reflux with the above tactics – I can assure you they’ve worked for me! Thank goodness, too – I don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t have a burrito or French fries once in a while!