January 26, 2021 6 min read

Acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux (GER), is a digestive disorder that affects an estimated 20% of Americans. The gastroesophageal disease is characterized by the backflow of stomach acid and partially digested food from the stomach back into the esophagus. This occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a group of muscles that are supposed to restrict reflux, relax when they shouldn’t. As a result, harmful stomach acid passes through to the esophagus.

percentage of americans who struggle with reflux statistic

Without treatment, continued stomach acid exposure can lead to chronic gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD, among other serious symptoms and conditions. Familiarizing yourself with acid reflux triggers is a great place to start when it comes to treating your symptoms.

In this post, we’ll take a look at what triggers acid reflux and other common causes of this condition. Read on for our comprehensive list, or use the links below to skip to the section that best describes your situation.

What Are Common Causes of Acid Reflux?

If you’re wondering, “Why do I have acid reflux?,” looking at the common causes of reflux is a critical first step. Like many conditions and medical questions, there’s no universal answer for what triggers acid reflux. For some, genetics play a role in reflux, while others experience flare-ups as a result of their dietary decisions.

To help you identify your unique acid reflux triggers, and ultimately work toward a path to treatment, we’re going to take a closer look at some of acid reflux’s most common denominators.

Dietary triggers

For obvious reasons, diet has a significant impact on your body’s digestion. While food doesn’t directly cause the LES muscle group to malfunction, certain ingredients can exacerbate or trigger your symptoms. Let’s take a look at which foods are considered acid reflux triggers.

Foods that trigger acid reflux symptoms

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the following foods can trigger acid reflux symptoms:

  • Spicy foods
  • Fried, fatty foods
  • Citrus fruits
  • Garlic and onions
  • Tomato-based foods
  • Cheese
  • Potato chips and processed snacks
  • Mint
  • Chocolate
  • Coffee and tea
  • Alcohol
  • Carbonated beverages

Johns Hopkins says those that struggle with acid reflux should try to avoid these foods and instead incorporate foods that help prevent acid reflux into their diet.

Foods that help prevent acid reflux

  • High-fiber foods (i.e. whole grains, root vegetables, greens)
  • Alkaline foods (i.e. bananas, melons, cauliflower, nuts)
  • Watery foods (i.e. watermelon, lettuce, broth, cucumber)
  • Milk
  • Ginger
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Lemon water

In addition to specific food triggers, acid reflux symptoms can flare up as a result of eating large meals or lying down right after eating. Gravity naturally aids digestion by pushing food down through the digestive tract, but when you lie down, you lose the gravitational force that helps keep food and stomach acid from traveling back into your esophagus. To prevent acid reflux and heartburn symptoms following a large meal, avoid lying down until the meal has been fully digested and try not to eat within 2-3 hours of your bedtime.

 

acid reflux prevention

Sleeping posture

As we mentioned above, gravity plays an unexpected yet vital role in how your body digests, and whether or not you experience gastroesophageal issues, such as acid reflux. When you’re lying down, there’s no longer a gravitational pull helping to keep stomach acid below your esophagus, so many people experience exacerbated acid reflux symptoms while they’re sleeping.

Modifying your sleeping position can help acid reflux

The good news is, by adjusting your sleeping posture you can minimize the potential for stomach acid backflow. So, how do you sleep with acid reflux? Physicians suggest sleeping with your torso elevated, on your left side. By elevating your torso, you’re more likely to keep the contents of your stomach below the esophagus, and in turn, reduce the likelihood of an acid reflux trigger. Additionally, sleeping on your left side supports the natural flow of the digestive tract, using gravity to its advantage; when you sleep on your right side, your digestive system has to work against gravity in order to function properly.

MedCline’s Reflux Relief System promotes reflux-free rest by leveraging the physician-recommended position for sleeping with acid reflux. Our patented three-component system offers natural relief from acid reflux symptoms, with 95% of MedCline users reporting improvements in their sleep and reflux symptoms.

medcline user statistics

 

Stress

Although many of us associate stress with psychological symptoms, it can wreak havoc on our bodies, too. From increased blood pressure and weight gain to headaches and general pain, stress can contribute to significant physical and emotional discomfort, and can even act as an acid reflux trigger.

When you’re stressed or are lacking sleep, your body may produce more stomach acid, which can trigger or worsen heartburn and acid reflux symptoms. Managing your stress by exercising, enjoying a healthy work-life balance, and seeking professional therapy can work to minimize your acid reflux symptoms.

Stomach abnormalities

Diet, sleep, and stress can all trigger acid reflux symptoms by increasing the amount of acid produced or disrupting the digestive process. By avoiding certain foods or situations and adjusting your lifestyle, you can easily address these triggers. However, there are other acid reflux causes that aren’t so easily resolved, including stomach abnormalities — namely, hiatal hernias.

Hiatal hernias happen when the upper part of the stomach and the LES rise above the diaphragm. Small hiatal hernias don’t usually cause much harm, but larger ones can cause digestive issues, including heartburn, acid reflux, trouble swallowing, and chest pain.

Hiatal hernias are caused by weakened muscle tissues that allow the upper part of the stomach to surpass the diaphragm, which can occur due to:

  • Age-related changes in your diaphragm (age 50+ are more at risk for development)
  • Surgical or traumatic injury to the area
  • Being born with an unusually large hiatus
  • Consistent and intense pressure on surrounding muscles, while coughing, vomiting, straining during a bowel movement, exercising or lifting heavy items

Obesity is another risk factor for hiatal hernias and acid reflux; added pressure on your stomach and near the diaphragm can contribute to weakened muscles and trigger reflux.

Note: Speak with your doctor if you have persistent symptoms or think you may have a hiatal hernia.

Pregnancy

As we mentioned, excess weight near the abdomen can cause pressure and potentially force stomach contents back into your esophagus, causing you to feel heartburn and other acid reflux symptoms. Pregnant women tend to experience high rates of acid reflux symptoms during their second and third trimesters. In fact, an estimated 51% of women reported having acid reflux while they were pregnant.

pregnancy reflux infographic

When it comes to monitoring your acid reflux triggers while pregnant, it’s best to work with your doctor to find a treatment method that works for you. One way to safely target your symptoms is by using a pregnancy pillow to promote reflux-free sleep. A pregnancy pillow helps cushion the body to support the stomach, back, head, knees, and hips. Certain pregnancy pillows, like MedCline’s Reflux Relief System with Therapeutic Body Pillow, can also help to reduce acid reflux symptoms.

Smoking

Smoking can negatively impact your health in a myriad of ways, including being a trigger for acid reflux. There are two main reasons smoking triggers acid reflux:

  1. It prevents the lower esophageal sphincter from functioning properly.
  2. It slows the production of saliva, which helps neutralize stomach acid.

man on video call with his doctor

Acid Reflux Treatments

Now that you’re familiar with some of the most common reasons for acid reflux flare-ups, let’s take a look at the treatment methods you and your physician may consider.

Lifestyle changes

Making some simple lifestyle changes is often the first step your doctor will suggest as you work toward a treatment plan. Here are a few examples of changes you can make to better manage your acid reflux triggers.

    • Adjust your diet: Avoiding your dietary triggers, like spicy or fatty foods, for example, and replacing them with foods that prevent acid reflux, such as whole grains, can help reduce the likelihood of reflux flare-ups.
  • Change your sleeping posture: Rather than sleeping on your back or stomach, try sleeping on your side to promote better digestion and minimize the potential for reflux symptoms.
  • Manage stress: Minimizing stressors through exercise and positive stress management can help curb extra production of stomach acid and potentially reduce reflux symptoms.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Extra pressure on the stomach can force stomach acid into the esophagus, causing heartburn. Maintaining a healthy weight can help you avoid this trigger.
  • Medication

    There are several over-the-counter and prescription medications designed for acid reflux and heartburn relief; however, some people experience heartburn after taking pills. Before taking any medications, be sure to talk to your doctor first.

    Final Notes

    In this guide, you learned about what triggers acid reflux, including diet, sleeping posture, stress, 

    stomach abnormalities, smoking, and pregnancy. By avoiding your acid reflux triggers and working with your doctor to find a treatment plan that works for you, you’ll be well on your way toward living reflux-free.

    Want to learn more about how MedCline can help? Visit our FAQ page for details on our products and HSA/FSA options.