Acid reflux is a burning feeling in your throat and chest and sometimes comes with burping, bloating, hiccups, and feeling like you’re going to be sick or actually vomiting. But why does it happen, and can you fix the problem? Express.co.uk chatted to Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy to find out how to get rid of acid reflux.
What causes acid reflux?
After eating and drinking, the food and drink pass down your oesophagus (throat) and into the stomach.
Several hours later, your stomach contents pass on through your intestines.
In the normal or reflux-free body, this is a one-way system and your food and drink stay in your stomach.
However, acid reflux occurs when the acidic stomach contents pass up the wrong way, back into the lower end of the oesophagus.
The action of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is responsible for keeping your food and drink in your stomach.
So, if you are getting reflux, this means your LES is not doing its job properly.
Dr Lee said this might be because you’ve eaten too much, you’ve irritating the LES with alcohol, cigarettes or spicy food, or you’re putting too much pressure on the LES because you’re overweight or obese.
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Acid reflux can also be caused by the following four factors:
- Stress – as this can result in excess production of stomach acids.
- Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatories (NSAID’s), such as ibuprofen, that cause inflammation in the oesophagus, stomach and duodenum.
- A hiatus hernia, a condition in which some of your stomach slides up into your chest.
Most people suffering from acid reflux have a combination of these factors.
If an attack of acid reflux is mild and only lasts a few weeks, it’s sensible to treat this yourself.
Start by looking at the underlying cause and putting things right.
For example, if it’s caused by your diet you can try eating smaller meals, following a low-fat diet, avoiding spicy foods, eating lots of protein and fibre.
Other things which can cause reflux include peppermint, coffee, alcohol, smoking, and carbonated water.
You should also avoid eating large meals within three hours of going to bed and make sure you don’t drink any fluids within two hours of going to bed.
Obesity is a major risk factor for acid reflux, and losing weight is likely to significantly improve your symptoms.
How to get rid of acid reflux – the 4 things to do
If you have symptoms more than three days a week, for three weeks, you are strongly advised to see your GP.
See your GP sooner if you have reflux associated with any other symptoms such as food sticking in your throat, or unexplained weight loss.
The GP may suggest one of the following 4 treatments:
The first thing to do if you have acid reflux symptoms is to take antacids, Dr Lee said.
She explained: “These can be purchased over the counter.
“Antacids work to provide symptom relief because they neutralise stomach acids.
“They contain either aluminium hydroxide, magnesium carbonate, or magnesium trisilicate. “Alternatively, some antacids contain alginates which coat the stomach and oesophagus to help give protection from an acid attack.
“You can get advice about these from your pharmacist.
“Antacids are generally safe to use, although magnesium-containing antacids tend to give diarrhoea, whereas aluminium-containing laxatives tend to cause constipation.”
Many people get relief from natural remedies, and there are plenty to try.
- Try mixing a teaspoon of bicarbonate with half a glass of water and drinking this every two hours, but no more than seven times in 24 hours if you are aged over 65 years.
- One 2015, double-blind, placebo-controlled, research study showed that extract of freeze-dried myrtle berries had a similar effect to reduce symptoms of reflux, as the drug omeprazole, or the placebo.
- Iberogast is a natural preparation that contains various herbs including bitter candytuft, chamomile, and liquorice root. Several studies have shown that Iberogast, when used in patients with gastric symptoms including reflux, improves symptoms better than a placebo.
- Acid reflux is exacerbated by stress. One 2012 study studied gastric acid secretion in two groups – one group suffering from symptoms of acid reflux, who practised breathing exercises and relaxation techniques for 30 minutes per day for 4-weeks, and the second groups which was a control group who had usual care.
- The relaxation group were shown to have significantly reduced gastric acid secretion compared to the control group.
Medical treatments for acid reflux
Your GP may prescribe medication such as omeprazole or lansoprazole.
Dr Lee said: “These are proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s), which means they inhibit excess production of stomach acid, allowing inflamed areas such as gastro-oesophagitis and ulcers to heal.
“They are generally safe and well-tolerated regarding long term use and their effect on the gut microbiome.
“Alternatively, you may be prescribed a drug such as ranitidine or cimetidine which is an H2 receptor blocker.
“These reduce gastric acid secretion and are also used to heal gastric and duodenal ulcers.”
If medical treatments fail, or you cannot take medication long term, you may be offered surgery.
One operation is called a Laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication (LNF) – this is keyhole surgery to tighten the LES.
Dr Lee said: “There are a variety of other techniques which can be carried out through an endoscope (flexible telescope) to bulk out or tighten the LES.”
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