Acid reflux is known more colloquially as heartburn and is known medically as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is a condition whereby some of the fluid in the stomach travels back up the esophagus. This fluid contains corrosive chemicals made in the stomach, such as pepsin and hydrochloric acid. They cause a burning sensation halfway up the esophagus, close to where the heart is situated, leading to the name heartburn. Acid reflux is a very common condition that can affect anyone at any time, but is increased by certain factors.
Causes of Acid Reflux
The most common cause of acid reflux and GERD is when the the sphincter muscle at the lower end of the esophagus is weaker than it should be. This muscle is supposed to seal off the stomach from the esophagus after passing food through, but it cannot close completely if it is too weak, which allows some of the stomach liquid to regurgitate back into the esophagus.
Pregnancy is also a common cause of heartburn. As the baby grows larger within the womb, it starts to press up against the stomach from below, pushing the stomach fluids upwards and increasing the chance that some acid will enter the esophagus. While pregnant women should always eat enough to satiate their hunger, consuming less during each meal can help reduce acid reflux.
A hiatal hernia occurs when a portion of the stomach pushes through a small hole in the diaphragm. This can happen due to a number of reasons, including vomiting, intense coughing, straining, unexpected physical exertion, obesity and pregnancy. Hiatal hernias do not necessarily cause acid reflux, but the conditions do tend to happen simultaneously and can cause fairly severe irritation and pain when experienced together.
Similarly, sufferers of asthma tend to cough quite forcefully, which can cause much the same effect as a hiatal hernia. Alternatively, asthma medications can be the cause, since they can relax the sphincter muscle at the lower end of the esophagus, causing a similar problem to GERD.
Unhealthy lifestyle choices can also increase the risk of acid reflux. People who smoke or drink a lot of alcohol can create problems in their esophagus due to the chemicals present in those substances. Consuming foods high in fat or salt, eating particularly large meals and eating too much overall can strain the stomach and cause acid reflux. Stimulant substances like caffeine can also cause heartburn.