Many of us have at one time or another experienced heartburn. While heartburn can be mild for a great many of us, for others it is extremely painful. Heartburn is the generic term for gastroesophageal reflux disease, GERD, “reflux” and acid reflux.
Acid reflux is also called gastroesophageal reflux. It is considered as, a disorder where the acidic juices of the stomach flows back (reflux) into the esophagus. The stomach walls are made to withstand the acids that are produced by digesting foods. The esophagus, which is the tube that passes food from the throat to the stomach, has a very thin lining to it. This lining does not have the protective strength of the stomach intestines. Thus when stomach acid reflux into the esophagus it makes the lower section of the esophagus painful and irritated. This painful inflammation is called reflux esophagitis.
The esophagus is usually sealed from the stomach by a valve known as the Lower Esophageal Sphincter, also called LES. This valve only opens when food passes into the stomach from the esophagus. There are a few conditions that make the valve work incorrectly. These factors range from eating large meals, drinking caffeine based drinks, eating acid causing foods to taking drugs like morphine, meperidine, nitrate heart medications and adrenergic drugs. The LES also becomes relaxes when foods like peppermint and chocolate are eaten.
The symptoms of acid reflux are varied. They range from your typical heartburn to cramping, excess salivation, shortness of breath, difficult or painful swallowing, fluid or vomit being inhaled into the lungs and other conditions. While acid reflux is painful, frequently occurring gastroesophageal reflux can lead to more serious conditions known as reflux esophagitis, esophageal narrowing and esophageal ulcer. The most serious acid reflux condition is Barrett’s syndrome. With Barrett’s syndrome a change in the lining of the esophagus leads to esophageal cancer.
Acid reflux can occur in anyone. The main sufferers of acid reflux are those who are obese, experience repeated vomiting, have nasogastric tubes, and have a history of hiatal hernia or scleroderma. Pregnant women may also experience acid reflux.
Acid reflux can be diagnosed and treated so that the symptoms are relived. A gastroenterologist will take x-rays of the patient. The patient will drink a barium solution and lie down so that their head is lower that their feet. An esophagoscopy examination is taken. Here a flexible viewing tube is inserted into the patient’s esophagus for a close look.