Acid reflux occurs when acids in the stomach are allowed to come up from the stomach into the esophagus. Normally, a muscle at the base of the esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter or LES, contracts to keep the acids in the stomach where they belong. It will relax only to let food come through the esophagus into the stomach for digestion.
When this muscle does not work properly, or pressure from the stomach builds for any reason, the acids can escape back into the esophagus. While the stomach has a protective lining to guard itself from damage caused by the acids, the esophagus is not equipped in the same way. That is why inflammation and discomfort can occur from acid reflux, which is also known as heartburn.
Heartburn is a pain that is felt in the middle of the chest, which is why it is called heartburn even though the heart is not involved in any way. Acid reflux causes the heartburn symptoms, and these symptoms can crop up once in a blue moon, or they can become quite frequent and problematic.
Are Heartburn and Acid Reflux Something to Worry About?
While acid reflux and heartburn are not generally serious, if it begins to happen quite frequently, the constant irritation to the esophageal lining can cause more serious problems. That is why doctors will often try to treat frequent acid reflux and heartburn; first by diet and lifestyle changes, and then with different types of medication. By the time a patient goes into a doctor with his symptoms, they have generally become painful and frequent enough to become a disruption in his life. Treatment for his acid reflux and heartburn symptoms are usually a welcome relief at that point.
Treatments for Acid Reflux and Heartburn Symptoms
Some of the more common treatments for heartburn symptoms resulting from acid reflux are to quit smoking, avoid large meals and tight clothing, and to not eat too close to bedtime. Dietary modifications can include avoiding certain foods and beverages such as alcohol, caffeine, citrus fruits and fatty foods. Chocolate and peppermint are also known contributors to acid reflux and heartburn. A doctor may also suggest keeping a food diary over a period of time to try and determine specific foods that might act as triggers for symptoms.
If these changes and modifications do not bring about effective relief, a doctor may recommend over the counter antacids or prescribe a stronger medication to treat recurring acid reflux and heartburn symptoms.