Acid Reflux and When Should You See A Gastroenterologist
Nearly everyone has experienced it. The burning sensation that starts in the chest and moves up your throat — it’s uncomfortable, typically cringingly painful, and can become a serious medical issue if left untreated. Of course, we’re talking about acid reflux here. Chronic acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), exposes your esophagus to stomach acids, burning the lining and overtime creating swelling, damaged vocal cords, and in more serious cases, increased odds of cancer.
At Northeastern Gastroenterology Associates, our team of gastroenterology doctors in Honesdale, PA can help patients experiencing severe and frequent heartburn diagnose the cause of the symptoms and provide them with the relief they seek. In this blog, we’ll further educate you on acid reflux, what causes it, and when it's necessary to visit our digestive specialists.
More About Acid Reflux
Some people often experience acid reflux after eating large meals or certain foods. Others may experience it due to excessive drinking or smoking. There are many foods, habits, and other factors that can trigger acid reflux. These triggers can cause the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to malfunction. When the lower esophageal sphincter malfunctions, food is unable to travel down into your stomach to be properly digested by stomach acid. Instead of the small muscle closing, it can open up and allow your stomach contents, both food and acid, to flow backward through the esophagus. This is what causes the burning sensation associated with acid reflux.
For some people, acid reflux is a standalone issue that may only be experienced every once in a while. Others, however, may experience it more regularly which can be an indication that there is a more significant, underlying health issue.
What Causes Acid Reflux?
Anyone can suffer from acid reflux and there are a variety of factors that can trigger the uncomfortable symptoms that come with it. Here are some of the most common causes of acid reflux:
Food and Drink Choices - Certain foods can be difficult for your body to digest. When this happens, your body produces extra stomach acid to help dissolve the food. The increased acid can leak into your esophagus, causing heartburn. If you’re experiencing acid reflux, consider cutting back on particularly fatty, citrusy, or spicy foods. The same goes for certain drinks, such as coffee, tea, carbonated beverages, and alcohol.
Obesity - One of the main causes of acid reflux or GERD is obesity. Abdominal fat, at a certain point, can apply pressure to your stomach, which pushes acid up the esophagus. Losing weight, either through diet and exercise or, in rare cases surgery, often can help reduce the frequency of reflux in obese patients.
Lying Down After Eating - Late dinners and late-night snacks can also trigger heartburn and acid reflux. Laying down or lounging on the couch after eating, especially following a large meal, increases the likelihood of acid reflux due to one unavoidable factor: gravity. When we eat, the lower esophageal sphincter opens to let food into the stomach, and then ideally closes up tight. But lying down can allow stomach acids to get into the esophagus, triggering a wide range of symptoms. One easy way to decrease acid reflux is to avoid lying down within two to three hours of eating. If you do choose to lay down or relax after eating, use multiple pillows to elevate your head so that acid cannot get into the esophagus as easily.
Smoking - Just as it does to other parts of the body, smoking can have a detrimental effect on your digestive system. And it’s not just smoking — both chewing tobacco and second-hand smoking contribute to the lower esophageal sphincter softening, allowing acid to spill out of the stomach. Smoking can also trigger chronic coughing, which increases pressure on the belly as well.
Stress - Have you ever experienced heartburn while stressed? If so, you’re not alone. Stress is a common cause of heartburn and acid reflux. Nearly two-thirds of people report experiencing symptoms when under high-stress. Some experts suggest that this is due to the fact that stress increases stomach acid, and that stress can also increase your perception of discomfort caused by acid reflux. One way to fight stress and reduce stress-induced acid reflux is to exercise regularly.
When To Visit a Gastroenterology Specialist for Acid Reflux
If you don’t experience severe heartburn or acid reflux frequently, you don’t necessarily need to visit a gastroenterologist. Simply try to eat better, exercise, destress, and steer clear of unhealthy lifestyle habits. If you notice that the frequency or intensity of acid reflux symptoms, or experience symptoms that are more alarming, such as vomiting, unintended weight loss, chest pain, or trouble swallowing, make an appointment to see us here at Northeastern Gastroenterology Associates so you can be evaluated by a doctor.
To learn more about acid reflux or to schedule an appointment at our Honesdale gastroenterology office, contact NGA today!