Acid reflux happens when stomach contents moves backward into the esophagus. It’s also known as acid regurgitation or gastroesophageal reflux (GERD). Acid reflux is a common digestive condition. According to the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), more than 60 million Americans experience acid reflux at least once a month. More than 15 million Americans experience it every day.
Acid reflux usually creates a burning sensation in the chest. The sensation radiates up from the stomach to the mid-chest or throat. This is also called as heartburn.
Acid reflux may also create a sour taste in the back of the mouth. Chronic reflux can sometimes result in difficulty swallowing and in some cases it can even cause breathing problems like asthma.
What Causes Acid Reflux?
The muscle at the end of the esophagus is known as the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a one-way valve that normally opens for limited amounts of time when you swallow. Acid reflux happens when the LES doesn’t close properly or tightly enough. A faulty or weakened LES allows digestive juices and stomach contents to rise back up into the esophagus.
Large meals that make the stomach to stretch a lot can temporarily loosen the LES. Other factors linked with reflux include:
- hiatal hernia (when part of the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm)
- consuming particular foods (particularly carbonated beverages, coffee, and chocolate)
If you observe that your reflux only happens with certain foods, try eliminating them from your diet. Some people also find that sitting up straight during and after eating improves their symptoms.
Types of Acid Reflux
Most people notice occasional acid reflux or GER. However, in some cases the digestive condition is chronic. It’s considered gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) if it happens more than twice a week.
Acid reflux can affect infants and children as well as adults. Children under 12 usually don’t experience heartburn. Instead they have alternative symptoms like:
- trouble swallowing
- dry cough
- laryngitis (loss of voice)
These alternative signs can also appear in adults.
Infant Acid Reflux
Adults are not the only ones affected by acid reflux. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC), more than half of all babies experience infant acid reflux during their first three months of life. It’s vital for your pediatrician to differentiate between normal reflux and GERD.
Spitting up and even vomiting is normal and may not bother the baby. Other signs of normal reflux include:
- arching the back during or immediately after feedings
- poor feeding
These signs generally aren’t harmful to the baby.
GERD in children can easily be missed. Infant acid reflux usually gets away on its own around 12 to 18 months of age. If signs persist beyond 18 months of age or become severe, talk to your child’s pediatrician. Your child’s symptoms may be a sign of GERD. Serious symptoms include:
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- a lack of weight gain
- refusing to eat
- breathing problems
Call your pediatrician immediately if your infant:
- vomits large amounts
- spits up green or brown fluid
- has trouble breathing after spitting up
To reduce reflux signs, your pediatrician may suggest:
- burping the baby a few times during a feeding
- giving more frequent, smaller meals
- keeping the baby upright for 30 minutes after eating
- adding up to 1 tablespoon of rice cereal to 2 ounces of infant milk (if using a bottle)
- changing your diet (if you are breast-feeding)
- Replacing the type of formula
- certain over-the-counter or prescription medicines to control symptoms
You also may be known to a pediatric gastroenterologist. Sometimes further testing is necessary.
Esophagitis is a general term for inflammation of the esophagus. It can be followed by irritation.
Reflux esophagitis is a type of esophagitis linked with GERD. It’s caused by stomach acid backing up into the esophagus. This damages the esophageal tissues. It often causes heartburn, which may become chronic.
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
GERD is a chronic digestive disease. It affects people of all ages, including children. It’s the more serious form of GER and can eventually cause more serious health issues if left untreated. Acid reflux that occurs more than twice a week and causes inflammation of the esophagus is thought to be GERD.
Most people with GERD experience signs such as:
- trouble swallowing
- a feeling of excessive fullness
Consult your doctor if you have symptoms, or use over-the-counter (OTC) antacids or reflux medications for more than two weeks.