There are a lot of misconceptions out there about the causes of acid reflux disease. There are many things people blame, such as certain foods and lifestyle choices… but are these the true acid reflux causes?
Is there an anatomical problem?
According to a notable gastroenterologist and professor at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Anish Sheth, someone that suffers from daily acid reflux is more likely to have an anatomical or medical condition responsible as the primary cause. This same viewpoint also seems to be the consensus through most of today’s medical community. In a nutshell, there are without a doubt certain lifestyle choices (such as spicy foods) that might intensify symptoms, but the primary cause of acid reflux reportedly is abnormal digestive function.
Here are some of the known issues that can lead to this:
Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES): Above the stomach and before the esophagus, this ring of muscle acts as a valve. It keeps the contents of the stomach in the stomach, or at least that what it’s supposed to do. When it weakens and doesn’t function properly, acid is able to work its way up. Reportedly this is the most common of the acid reflux causes. Unfortunately it is not known exactly what causes the LES to weaken, but what we do know is that acid reflux goes hand in hand with a malfunctioning LES.
Pregnancy: Reportedly 50% of pregnant women endure acid reflux. There are a couple causes behind this. First of all, changes of the hormones are known to cause the esophageal sphincter to relax and not work as it should. Secondly, the larger uterus puts greater pressure on the region. Both of these are causes that are out of our control. Fortunately after delivery, the acid reflux will usually begin to subside and eventually disappear.
Gastroparesis: This is a condition where the stomach’s ability to digest and move food works much slower than it should. When this occurs, as the contents of the stomach piles up, so does the acid. The result is the excess backing up into the esophagus.
Hiatal hernia: The esophagus enters the stomach through a small opening in the diaphragm called known as the hiatus. It’s a tight fit as it is, but when the stomach pushes up through this opening, a hiatal hernia can occur. However this happens to be very common (more thant 40% of Americans have it) and it is even more prevalent in seniors. Previously it was believed that this was one of the acid reflux causes since it can inhibit the LES muscle. However evidence has reportedly not confirmed it to be a frequent cause of acid reflux. That being said, it might worsen acid reflux symptoms.
Asthma: The verdict is still out on whether or not this is truly one of the causes of acid reflux disease. Some speculate that inhalers might weaken the LES muscle. Others say that the weezing and coughing may disrupt normal function in the region. Whether these are true or not, we do know that acid reflux can intensify the symptoms associated with asthma (when acid irritates the esophagus and throat). Therefore it’s very important to properly treat acid reflux is you have this disease.
While the above acid reflux causes are for the most part considered outside of our control, let’s take a look at a few things we can control that might worsen symptoms:
Smoking: This makes common sense since smoking will greatly irritate the esophagus; acid reflux suffers have yet another good reason to kick the habit.
Diet: Is there such thing as an acid reflux diet? Well, as mentioned at the start of this article, diet may not be the root cause of acid reflux but it is known to intensify symptoms for many. Some of the things which should be avoided/limited might include spicy foods, gassy foods, vinegar, alcohol, caffeine, tomato products, chocolate, and carbonated drinks. But since everyone’s body is different, what may trigger symptoms in one person may have no effect on someone else.
Medications: There are certain medications which may not necessarily be considered one of the acid reflux causes, but they can cause irritation of the esophagus. For example, certain types blood pressure and muscle relaxer medications are known to do this. If you are prescribed a medication that has acid reflux as a side effect, do not stop using it. Talk to your doctor to see what they recommend; sometimes there are other options, other times the benefits of the medicine outweigh the acid reflux side effect, plain and simple.
Obesity: When a person is overweight, increased pressure is placed on the entire body, including the diaphragm. This causes the lower esophageal sphincter and other parts of the digestive system to malfunction.
Important Notice About Acid Reflux Treatment
Acid reflux disease can lead to permanent damage of the esophagus, throat, and mouth. It can even lead to esophageal cancer, although that is extremely rare. The bottom line is that acid reflux symptoms should not go untreated. There are plenty of effective and affordable medications on the market, many of them OTC, that are known to do a good job at treating acid reflux. Talk to your doctor to find out more.