Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing symptoms such as heartburn, difficulty swallowing, regurgitation, and discomfort. There can be various causes for acid reflux, and the treatment options aim to provide relief by managing the underlying causes and reducing symptoms. Sometimes acid reflux progresses to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), causing frequent heartburn.
Common causes and treatment approaches for acid reflux relief
Causes of Acid Reflux
- Weak Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES): The LES is a ring of muscle that acts as a valve between the stomach and the esophagus. If it weakens or relaxes inappropriately, stomach acid can flow back into the esophagus, causing acid reflux.
- Hiatal Hernia: This occurs when a portion of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm into the chest cavity, disrupting the normal functioning of the LES and leading to acid reflux.
- Diet and Lifestyle Factors: Certain foods and habits can trigger or worsen acid reflux symptoms. These include fatty or fried foods, spicy foods, citrus fruits, chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, smoking, obesity, and lying down after eating large meals.
- Pregnancy: Hormonal changes and increased pressure on the abdomen during pregnancy can cause acid reflux symptoms.
- Medications: Certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), aspirin, and some muscle relaxers, can contribute to acid reflux symptoms. Stress and certain medical conditions, such as gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying) or scleroderma, can also be contributing factors.
Natural remedies to provide relief for acid reflux (Heartburn)
Lifestyle Changes: Make changes to your daily routine to help manage acid reflux symptoms.
- Identify and avoid trigger foods and beverages that worsen symptoms.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals instead of large meals. Overeating can put pressure on the LES, so eating smaller portions can help.
- Avoid lying down immediately after eating. Give your body time to digest before lying down. Elevate the head of your bed by 6 to 8 inches to prevent stomach acid from flowing back up during sleep. Use a wedge pillow or raise the mattress.
- Maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly to reduce the pressure on the abdomen and LES.
- Quit smoking if you smoke.
- Manage stress through relaxation techniques.
- Increase your intake of fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Choose lean proteins like poultry, fish, and beans instead of high-fat meats.
- Opt for low-fat dairy products.
- Limit or avoid caffeine, alcohol, carbonated beverages, spicy foods, citrus fruits, and chocolate.
Food for Acid Reflux Relief
- Ginger: Ginger has long been used to soothe digestive issues. It has natural anti-inflammatory properties and can help reduce inflammation in the esophagus. It can be consumed by adding it to meals, drinking ginger tea, or taking ginger supplements.
- Aloe Vera: Aloe vera juice can soothe the irritated esophagus and digestive system. Drink a small amount of pure aloe vera juice (about 1/4 cup) before meals to help relieve acid reflux symptoms. It is important to use pure aloe vera juice without any added sugars or flavors.
- Apple Cider Vinegar: Despite its acidic nature, diluted apple cider vinegar can help balance stomach acid levels. Mix 1-2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with water and drink it before meals.
- Slippery Elm: Slippery elm is an herbal remedy that forms a protective layer on the lining of the esophagus, reducing irritation from stomach acid. You can find slippery elm in powder or capsule form. Mix the powder with water to make a soothing drink.
- Chamomile Tea: Chamomile tea has soothing and anti-inflammatory properties that can help calm the stomach and reduce acid reflux symptoms. Drink a cup of chamomile tea before bed or after meals.
- Marshmallow Root: Marshmallow root has mucilage properties that can help coat and protect the lining of the esophagus, reducing acid reflux symptoms. It is available in tea, capsule, or tincture form.
- Baking Soda: Baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) can help neutralize stomach acid. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water and drink it to relieve symptoms. However, it’s important to use this remedy sparingly, as excessive consumption can lead to electrolyte imbalances.
Treatment Options for Acid Reflux Relief
- Antacids: These provide temporary relief by neutralizing stomach acid.
- H2 blockers: These reduce acid production and can provide longer-lasting relief.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs): These medications block acid production and allow the esophagus to heal. They are typically taken on a short-term basis.
- Foam barriers: These over-the-counter medications create a foam barrier in the stomach to prevent acid reflux.
- If over-the-counter options do not provide sufficient relief, your doctor may prescribe stronger medications, such as prescription-strength PPIs or prokinetics, to help strengthen the LES and promote faster stomach emptying.
Medical procedures like fundoplication or LINX device placement may be considered in severe cases where other treatments have failed. Surgical options to strengthen the LES or repair a hiatal hernia are usually reserved for specific cases and are determined by a healthcare professional.
- Fundoplication: This surgical procedure involves wrapping the upper part of the stomach around the LES to strengthen it and prevent acid reflux.
- LINX device: It is a small magnetic ring implanted around the LES to help keep it closed while allowing food to pass through.
- Endoscopic treatments: Several minimally invasive endoscopic procedures can be used to tighten the LES or repair the hiatal hernia.
If you have severe or persistent acid reflux symptoms, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and guidance on the most suitable treatment options for acid reflux relief.
Dr. Haseena Hamdani, MBBS, DGO, PGD Endocrinology and Diabetes (USW) is a Gynaecologist, currently practicing in Gaborone, Botswana since the last 17 years. Prior to setting up this clinic she worked in India as well as in Zambia, as a Gynaecologist and Obstetrician and was also associated with an Infertility center. She is also an online tutor for the University of South Wales.