Acid Reflux, What Is It?

in medicine, biology

Acid reflex is caused when stomach acid enters the food pipe.  When we eat food, it goes through food pipe, also known as esophagus, and enters stomach. Stomach acid helps in digestion of the food.  When stomach contents, including stomach acid, leak  backwards into the food pipe, it causes acid reflux.

Acid reflux is due to irritation of the food pipe, heart burn is one of the symptoms.  Acid reflux is also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Stomach acid, also called gastric acid, is a digestive fluid formed in the stomach. This acidic fluid is composed of hydrochloric acid (chemical formula, HCl) with large quantities of potassium chloride (chemical formula, KCl) and sodium chloride (chemical formula, NaCl). The stomach acid has a pH of 1 to 2. Cell lining inside the stomach are resistant to the damaging effect of stomach acid, but cells inside esophagus are not resistant.

Normally, special muscles called lower esophageal sphincter prevents the food that entered stomach from flowing back, by holding it closed.  Incomplete closing of this muscle causes substances in the stomach to enter esophagus. Acid reflux can damage the lining of food pipe.

When acid reflux occurs, food or fluid may be tasted in the back of the mouth. When refluxed stomach acid touches the lining of the esophagus it may cause a burning sensation in the chest or throat called heartburn or acid indigestion. It is not clear why only some people develop GERD.

Most common symptoms of acid reflux are:
Heart burn or a burning pain in the chest, nausea after eating, regurgitation of food and dysphagia or difficulty in swallowing.

To prevent acid reflux some food and beverages may be avoided. Excess meals may cause production of excessive stomach acid increasing the chance of acid reflux, so small meals are recommended. These include alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, tomatoes and spicy foods. Over-the-counter antacids may be used after meals and at bedtime. Tight clothing around the abdomen can also increase the risk of acid reflux and heart burn because of the pressure on stomach which may push stomach contents back to the food pipe. Every year GERD affect approximately 5.4 per 1000 individuals in the United States.

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Science Story Reference: 

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Kotzan J, Wade W, Yu HH (September 2001). "Assessing NSAID prescription use as a predisposing factor for gastroesophageal reflux disease in a Medicaid population". Pharm Res 18 (9): 1367-72. 

Additional Sources: 

Treatment Options for GERD or Acid Reflux Disease: A Review of the Research for Adults. John M. Eisenberg Center for Clinical Decisions and Communications Science. Comparative Effectiveness Review Summary Guides for Consumers. Rockville (MD): Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (US); 2005-.

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Acid reflux and asthma. Harding SM.Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2003 Jan;9(1):42-5.
Editorial: non-Acid reflux: the missing link between gastric atrophy and esophageal squamous cell carcinoma?Cook MB. Am J Gastroenterol. 2011 Nov;106(11):1930-2. doi: 10.1038/ajg.2011.288.
Is there evidence to link acid reflux with chronic sinusitis or any nasal symptoms? A review of the evidence. Flook EP, Kumar BN. Rhinology. 2011 Mar;49(1):11-6.
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