What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux is a painful condition that affects millions of people all over the world. It is caused when your stomachs digestive acids make their way up into the esophagus. If you suffer from acid reflux on a regular basis, there is a chance that it may be the result of another more serious condition called gastroesophogeal reflux disease; also known as GERD.
GERD is common in people of all ages. As you swallow something, it passes through the esophagus to a ring of muscles called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) which separates the esophagus from the stomach. These muscles normally open to allow the swallowed food to pass and then close immediately after its passage. In people with GERD, this muscle is weak or otherwise impaired and does not close like it should once the food has passed. When this happens acid is likely to force its way up into the esophagus and cause heart burn.
This is a destructive pattern that can actually lead to some pretty serious complications beyond the painful symptoms of heartburn.
What are common acid reflux symptoms?
Besides the obvious dull, burning sensation in the chest, there are other conditions that can happen as a direct result of acid reflux. These are:
Your esophagus is covered in a special protective lining. When the acids from your stomach back up into it on a regular basis this lining will eventually get damaged causing painful ulcers in your esophagus. If the reflux is allowed to continue you could even find yourself facing erosion of the esophagus blood vessels which results in serious bleeding. If this happens you may need surgery to repair the damage so see your doctor the instant you think you may have an ulcer.
Coughing and asthma attacks
Most people are surprised to learn that you can have an asthma attack due to GERD and heartburn. It is well known that asthma sufferers are more prone to acid reflux than non-sufferers and there are currently many studies underway to determine why. Some of the more popular theories suggest that acid in the esophagus can stimulate the nerve endings that trigger coughing, or that the acid itself gets aspirated into the lungs. While anyone may find themselves coughing due to GERD, in most cases only people with a preexisting asthma condition will have an actual asthma attack.
In some people who suffer regularly from acid reflux disease, the cells in the lower esophagus will respond to repeated exposure to digestive acids by growing into a completely different type of cell! In most cases, these new cells are similar to cells located in your stomach or intestines in that they are better able to withstand the acidic environment they have been exposed to. While this may sound like a useful adaptation, Barrett’s esophagus can often lead to cancer of the esophagus. Barrett’s can be detected with a procedure called an endoscopy – during which a small camera is passed through the esophagus and is used to visually inspect for abnormalities.