December 30, 2020 8 min read

Acid reflux can be a pain to deal with. It’s not unusual to experience it every once in a while, like, for instance, after a big dinner or a particularly spicy meal. However, experiencing acid reflux on a regular basis can cause a significant amount of discomfort and get in the way of your life. Not only that, but recurring acid reflux symptoms may also signal more serious gastrointestinal problems. 


In order to prevent acid reflux, it’s essential that you first understand what it is, why it happens, and how it can be treated. In this article, we’ll discuss:

  1. What is Acid Reflux? 
  2. How to Diagnose Acid Reflux 
  3. Risk Factors for Acid Reflux 
  4. Common Acid Reflux Triggers 
  5. Treatment for Acid Reflux
  6. How to Prevent Acid Reflux 
  7. Foods That Help with Acid Reflux (The GERD Diet) 

What is Acid Reflux? 


Acid reflux occurs when backed up stomach acid enters the esophagus—the tube connecting your throat to your stomach—and irritates it. While your stomach lining contains special cells that protect it from stomach acid, your esophagus does not. Thus, when stomach acid seeps up into your esophagus, the sensitive lining is much more vulnerable to damage. 


If you’re experiencing acid reflux, it’s probably related to a problem with a ring of muscles known as your lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Your LES is an essential part of the gastrointestinal tract, responsible for containing the acidic contents of your stomach. 


When you eat a meal, the food passes through your esophagus before entering the stomach. Once the food makes its way through your esophagus, the LES opens up to allow food to enter, then closes to prevent it from coming back up. It can also open up to allow trapped gases to escape, which manifests in the form of a burp or belch. 


Acid reflux happens when the LES doesn’t close entirely, or doesn’t close tightly enough. Without that boundary, food matter and stomach acid can surge back up into your esophagus, causing irritation, discomfort, and heartburn. 

LES stomach infographic

If you consistently experience acid reflux symptoms, then you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). GERD is a common digestive condition that hinders the normal functioning of your LES, and can lead to more serious complications if left untreated. 


How to Diagnose Acid Reflux


You’ve most likely experienced acid reflux symptoms at some point or another. After eating a big meal, you may have noticed some discomfort in your chest, or felt like there was some undigested food still lingering in your throat. Whether or not it’s considered a disorder typically depends on the frequency with which the following symptoms occur: 

  • Heartburn 
  • A sour or bitter acidic taste in the back of your mouth 
  • Nausea 
  • Involuntary regurgitation
  • A sensation of food being stuck in your throat 
  • Coughing 
  • Chest pain

If you experience these acid reflux symptoms more than twice per week for several weeks in a row, or if symptoms continue regardless of over-the-counter medication, then you should visit a doctor. A doctor can examine you, run tests, and check for more serious conditions, including GERD. 

GERD visit doctor infographic

When you go to the doctor, they’ll most likely start the diagnostic process by reviewing your medical records, asking you questions, and conducting a physical examination. If your doctor still can’t definitively diagnose you with GERD after taking these steps, then, according to mayoclinic.org, they may recommend the following tests: 

  • An X-ray examination: Allows your doctor to assess whether there are any structural problems with your esophagus.
  • An endoscopy: A thin tube with a camera probe is placed down your throat in order to get a better look at your gastrointestinal tract and possibly collect a tissue sample.
  • An ambulatory acid probe test: An acid monitor is placed in your esophagus in order to measure how often stomach acid enters your esophagus.
  • Esophageal manometry: A test that records certain aspects of your esophageal functions and analyzes the muscles of the esophagus. 

A physical exam and review of your medical records combined with these tests should give your doctor the information necessary to determine whether or not to diagnose you with GERD, at which point they can advise you on a treatment plan. 


Risk Factors for Acid Reflux 


Experiencing symptoms of acid reflux isn’t unusual by any means. In fact, as much as 60% of the population experiences symptoms of GERD, such as acid reflux or heartburn, at some point during the year.

However, some groups are more prone than others to experiencing particularly bad acid reflux symptoms. The segments of the population at the most risk for developing GERD include:
  • Those who are overweight or obese 
  • Pregnant women 
  • Smokers 
  • Heavy drinkers 

Common Acid Reflux Triggers 

There are a number of reasons your LES may not be functioning properly. It could be due to your health, your lifestyle, your genetics, or something else. But in a lot of cases, there are two main reasons that the LES isn’t doing it’s job: overeating and excess pressure on your stomach.


When you overeat, you pack your stomach so full of food that some of it pushes back against the LES and overflows up into your esophagus. Being overweight, obese, or pregnant can have the same effect—when a lot of pressure is placed on your stomach, as in these cases, the pressure can often force your stomach’s acidic contents past your LES and into your esophagus. 


Foods to Avoid with GERD

Certain foods can end up being what causes an acid reflux flare up. The exact foods that trigger this reaction vary from person to person, but, in general, some foods tend to be more problematic than others. Spicy and acidic foods in particular can often trigger acid reflux symptoms. 


So, if you suffer from GERD, you might want to try and avoid consuming potentially triggering items, such as:

  • Fried, high-fat foods 
  • Spicy foods
  • Citrus fruits 
  • Tomatoes 
  • Onions
  • Cheese 
  • Coffee 
  • Chocolate
  • Peppermint 

 

Treatment for Acid Reflux 

There are a variety of different ways to treat acid reflux and GERD. Oftentimes, you can effectively treat it from the comfort of your own home by taking over-the-counter medications, avoiding certain foods, or making changes in your lifestyle. 


Of course, in other cases, you may need to take medication prescribed to you by your doctor or undergo other treatment methods in order to keep acid reflux at bay. Here’s an outline of some of the different treatment options available to you. 


Medications 


Taking medication is seemingly one of the simplest ways to battle acid reflux. Many people suffering from acid reflux and GERD have found relief by taking either over-the-counter or prescription medication. Some of the most common medications used to treat symptoms of acid reflux include: 

  • Antacids: Calcium carbonate supplements like Tums can relieve acid reflux symptoms like heartburn and an upset stomach.
  • H2-receptor blockers: H2 blockers can lower the amount of stomach acid you produce by inhibiting the function of specific acid-producing stomach cells.
  • Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs provide relief by reducing the amount of acid your stomach makes. 

woman taking a PPI for reflux

If taking these medications over-the-counter, you should generally only be using them as a short-term solution. Prescription-strength versions of these medications typically have higher dosage levels and can potentially provide a greater amount of long-term relief. However, there are a number of negative side effects associated with prolonged use of drugs like proton pump inhibitors (PPI).


Lifestyle Changes 


In certain cases, you can minimize the symptoms of acid reflux without having to take medication or undergo more invasive procedures. Making changes to your lifestyle can be a great way to naturally reduce symptoms of acid reflux and GERD. Lifestyle changes that can potentially reduce the symptoms you experience include:


  • Practice healthy eating
  • Maintain a healthy weight 
  • Quit smoking 
  • Avoid trigger foods 

Nighttime Relief


In addition to interfering with your sleep, experiencing acid reflux at night can actually be more dangerous than in the daytime. That’s because when you experience acid reflux while sitting or standing, your saliva and the pull of gravity prevent stomach acid from remaining in your esophagus for too long. But when you’re lying down, the stomach acid can linger in your esophagus for a longer period of time and, as a result, cause more damage to the organ’s lining. 


In order to prevent nighttime acid reflux, try adjusting your sleeping position. When you sleep on your left side or on an incline, gravity helps to prevent your stomach’s acidic contents from creeping up into your esophagus. Optimize how you sleep by trying out MedCline’s Reflux Relief System—the patented three-part Sleep System can keep your esophagus elevated while you sleep and help you remain on your left side through the night.  

How to Prevent Acid Reflux 


Prevention is the best medicine, as they say. So how can you prevent acid reflux from occurring in the first place? While there’s no surefire way to permanently put an end to the symptoms of acid reflux, there are steps you can take to potentially limit its severity, such as: 

 

how to prevent acid reflux infographic

  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle: Keeping active, staying at a healthy weight, and making good dietary choices can keep the pressure off your stomach and lower the chances that you’ll develop GERD. 
  • Eating meals well before bedtime: Lying down too soon after eating a big meal can trigger acid reflux, so try to eat smaller dinners and give yourself at least three hours to digest your meal before going to bed. 
  • Eating at a slower pace: Eating too fast increases the likelihood that you’ll overeat and cause your stomach’s acidic contents to overflow into your esophagus. 
  • Sleeping at an elevated angle: Elevating the upper part of your body while you sleep can help prevent you from experiencing acid reflux at night. To keep your torso comfortably elevated throughout the night, try using MedCline’s Reflux Relief System

Foods That Help with Acid Reflux (The GERD Diet) 


While spicy and acidic foods can often trigger acid reflux symptoms, some foods can do the opposite, and actually help prevent acid reflux. The amount of acid your stomach produces depends largely on your diet. Following a healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can improve the health and well-being of anyone. But if you suffer from acid reflux or GERD, here are a few foods that can potentially provide some relief from your symptoms:

  • Non-citrus fruits
  • Vegetables 
  • Egg whites 
  • Lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish, etc.) 
  • Oatmeal
  • Rice 
  • Ginger 

If you’ve been experiencing acid reflux symptoms on a regular basis, then you should address the issue as soon as possible. Finding a treatment that works for you will allow you to go through life without being burdened by the irritation and discomfort that acid reflux brings about. Additionally, if you have GERD it’s important to get treatment sooner rather than later, otherwise your esophagus could suffer more serious damage. 

Following the tips in this article can potentially help you avoid acid reflux or mitigate the symptoms, but it’s always best to consult with a health professional in order to determine the course of treatment best suited to your needs. 


References:

  • “Acid Reflux And Heartburn.” Dignity Health, Chandler Regional Medical Center, www.dignityhealth.org/arizona/locations/chandlerregional/services/gastroenterology-digestive-disease/acid-reflux-and-heartburn. 
  • “Acid Reflux (GER & GERD) in Adults.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 July 2020, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/acid-reflux-ger-gerd-adults. 
  • “Diet Changes for GERD.” About GERD, International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders , 19 Sept. 2019, www.aboutgerd.org/diet-lifestyle-changes/diet-changes-for-gerd.html. 
  • Suni, Eric. “GERD and Sleep.” Edited by Nilong Vyas, Sleep Foundation, OneCare Media , 14 Aug. 2020, www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/gerd-and-sleep. 
  • Zhao , Yafu, and William Encinosa. “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) Hospitalization in 1998 and 2005 .” Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality , Jan. 2008, www.hcup-us.ahrq.gov/reports/statbriefs/sb44.pdf.