What is reflux?

Reflux or Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a condition where the oesophagus becomes inflamed and irritated because stomach acids and digestive enzymes back up into it. GERD can occur at any age and affects a lot of people to varying degrees of severity.

What are its causes and concerns?

It is the function of the lower oesophageal sphincter (a muscular ring at the base of the oesophagus) to prevent acid from backing up into the oesophagus. While swallowing, this muscle relaxes to allow food to go through and tightens thereafter to stop the backwards flow. However, if you have GERD, this sphincter relaxes between swallows, due to which the contents of the stomach back up and cause harm to the oesophageal lining.

It is unknown what could cause this disease, but we know that certain factors may make reflux worse. These are:

  • Diet – like chocolate, garlic, onions, caffeinated beverages, acidic foods, spicy foods, mint flavourings and fatty and fried foods
  • Eating habits – like having large meals, eating too quickly, dining just before going to sleep
  • Certain medical conditions – like hiatus hernia, rapid weight gain, pregnancy, diabetes
  • Medication – like calcium channel blockers, theophylline, antihistamines, nitrates
  • Lifestyle – like alcohol use, smoking, obesity and poor posture.

.What are its symptoms?

Certain symptoms and signs that indicate reflux are:

  • Heartburn pain that lasts for 2 hours
  • Heartburn that worsens after eating
  • Persistent heartburn (most common symptom)
  • Bringing up bitter acids into the throat while bending over or sleeping
  • Having a bad taste in the mouth
  • Prolonged dry cough
  • Feeling of tightness in the throat as though food is stuck
  • Wheezing
  • Lying down and bending over causing or making heartburn worse
  • Pain worsens because of physical activity
  • Hoarseness which is at its worst first thing in the morning
  • In children and babies – repeated episodes of coughing, respiratory issues and vomiting 

If you notice these symptoms in yourself or your child, consider seeing a throat specialist to get yourself examined.

What are the solutions and options?

Treatment of GERD usually involves making changes in one’s lifestyle, diet and habits, to reduce reflux, relieve symptoms and prevent oesophageal damage. A throat specialist is the best person to consult if you are experiencing any reflux-related discomfort. Additionally, there are some fundamental changes you can make to help with your condition:

  • Eat small frequent meals – Overeating at any one time increases the number of stomach acids required for digestion
  • Modifications in the diet – Avoid eating fatty/greasy foods, caffeine, chocolate, mints, mint-flavoured foods or gum, citrus foods, spicy foods and tomato-based foods. These food items reduce the competency of the sphincter at the bottom of the oesophagus
  • Avoid eating three hours before bedtime – a relatively empty stomach facilitates a reduction in acid production
  • Avoid alcohol – alcohol increases the chances of your stomach acids backing up
  • Quit smoking – nicotine tends to weaken the sphincter and cause increased reflux
  • Lose extra weight – reflux is much more common in obese or overweight individuals than in healthier people
  • Maintain good posture – to help food and acids pass through the stomach as opposed to backing up into the oesophagus
  • Remain upright after eating regardless of the time of day – this keeps the contents of the stomach down
  • Elevate the head of your bed by six inches – because gravity helps reduce reflux.

In conclusion

Although medication does help with reflux, it can be prescribed only for a brief period. Eventually, one has to make some changes to the diet and lifestyle, which will gradually improve overall health and reduce discomfort due to reflux. It is essential to take help from a throat specialist without delay if you are suffering from reflux. Call us today and our physicians will be happy to help you find a solution to your troubles.

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