Most people who enjoy the occasional spicy meal will experience heartburn now and again, but if you find yourself feeling the burn even when you consume mild foods, you may be one of some 3 million adults suffering from a more chronic, aggravating condition: acid reflux. Though not a dangerous condition, acid reflux can cause significant discomfort, and it can be challenging to treat effectively.
What Is Acid Reflux?
In layperson’s terms, acid reflux is what happens when the acidic contents of the stomach flow upward into the throat, irritating the lining of the esophagus.
This can cause a range of unpleasant symptoms including chest pain that worsens when lying down, a burning sensation in the throat or mouth, bloating, belching, coughing, nausea, and even regurgitation.
Though not life-threatening by itself, acid reflux has been linked to far more serious ailments including esophageal cancer, so it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
But even if it doesn’t lead to complications down the road, acid reflux is a condition that can considerably lessen your life’s enjoyment, making it hard to relish a meal without pain or to sleep without waking up to chest pressure and coughing. To read more about how it manifests and how it can be treated, read on.
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What Are the Symptoms of Acid Reflux?
Because the symptoms of acid reflux can easily be mistaken for more serious conditions, it’s important to be able to identify them so you can know whether you need to urgently seek medical care. You can read more about the symptoms here.
If you have experienced any of the following, consider making an appointment with your primary caregiver to receive a proper diagnosis.
1. Chest pain:
Prior to being formally diagnosed, many acid reflux sufferers mistake their chest pain for a heart attack and find themselves in the emergency room.
While frightening, the chest pain associated with acid reflux isn’t a sign of imminent danger. However, because it can be a sign of a more serious underlying problem, please seek immediate medical attention if you’re experiencing chest pain.
2. Pain that worsens when you’re lying on your back:
When you stand upright, gravity helps keep the contents of your stomach in your stomach where they belong. But when you lie down, there’s nothing to stop them from flowing back upward into your throat, where they can cause pain and discomfort.
3. Pain or nausea after eating:
People with acid reflux often experience indigestion after a big meal. This can feel like stomach pain or queasiness, and as mentioned it often worsens if you lie down. (Do note that if you find yourself experiencing recurring stomach pain after eating that you should be evaluated by a doctor to rule out other conditions such as ulcers.)
4. A hoarse voice:
If your throat feels raspy and you know you aren’t suffering from an upper respiratory ailment, it may be a sign that you’re dealing with acid reflux. Stomach acid flowing into your esophagus can irritate your vocal cords, giving your voice a hoarse quality or even causing it to crack unexpectedly, especially after eating.
5. Cough, sore throat, or asthma:
If stomach acid is seeping into your throat or lungs, soreness and coughing are predictable outcomes, and if you’re already an asthma sufferer, the strain of constantly coughing can actually trigger an asthma attack.
If you are asthmatic, it’s all the more important that you treat your acid reflux to help avoid unnecessary attacks.
These are just a few of the symptoms associated with acid reflux. You can read more here.
If you suspect that you may have acid reflux, it’s important to get a full evaluation from your doctor to rule out any more serious disorders, including stomach ulcers, cancer, or heart problems.
What Are the Risk Factors for Acid Reflux?
The following characteristics are associated with an increased likelihood of developing acid reflux. By themselves, none are guarantees that you will develop the condition.
However, if more than a few of them apply to you, you should consider yourself more susceptible than the average person. If you notice you’re already experiencing symptoms of acid reflux, consider how the following lifestyle habits might be contributing to them.
- Eating a diet high in fatty or acidic foods, or consuming beverages including coffee, tea, alcohol, and soda
- Lying down immediately after eating, or snacking close to bedtime
To learn more about risk factors associated with acid reflux, go here.
How Can I Treat My Acid Reflux?
In their haste for relief, many sufferers visit their local pharmacy to load up on antacids, or see their primary caregivers for stronger prescription remedies.
But these treatments simply minimize the symptoms of the condition rather than resolving them—and they often come with a host of unwanted side effects. For lasting relief, a more holistic approach to healing is often required.
Through a combination of dietary changes, behavioral changes, and natural remedies, you can conquer acid reflux permanently without having to resort to harsh pharmaceuticals and chew on chalky antacids. Read on to learn how!
Your Complete Guide to Battling Acid Reflux … And Winning!
This simple strategy for combating acid reflux can also be one of the most difficult, especially for the foodies among you.
While reducing your consumption of fatty and acidic foods is the most reliable way of reducing or eliminating symptoms, it entails a major lifestyle change that many will find daunting.
However, if you’re tired of being in pain and chomping on antacids like they’re after-dinner mints, you should consider modifying your current diet.
Foods known to aggravate acid reflux include whole milk, fried and fatty foods, peppermint, spearmint, oils, chocolate, creamed soups, and most fast food.
Foods that can irritate an already inflame esophagus include citrus (such as pineapple, tomato, orange, and grapefruit), coffee, tea, soft drinks, and other caffeinated beverages. If any of these items is a staple of your diet, it’s safe to assume that they’re contributing to your discomfort and should be avoided.
For a more complete list of foods to avoid and replacement foods, visit this page.
It’s also important to note that dietary changes don’t merely include what you eat, but how you eat. You can help to reduce the symptoms of acid reflux further by taking your time when you eat a meal, taking smaller bites, chewing slowly and thoroughly, and consuming smaller portions in each sitting.
We’ve already established that lying down after eating can cause the symptoms of acid reflux to worsen, so where does this leave you when bedtime rolls around? One easy solution is to elevate the head of your bed by about six inches.
This will allow you to take advantage of gravity and prevent stomach acid from seeping back into your throat while you sleep.
Also, though it may be tempting to lie down in front of the TV after eating, particularly after a meal laden in carbs, it’s unwise to do so until after you’ve had some time to digest your food, which takes about four hours.
If you’re already prone to stomach pain or chest pain after eating, lying down right after will only intensify it. There is also some evidence that sleeping on your left side instead of your back can further reduce uncomfortable symptoms.
Obviously this doesn’t apply to all sufferers, but if you know you’re overweight then you should also know that excess stomach fat can constrict around the stomach, forcing acid upwards into the throat.
You may not experience total relief from your symptoms simply by slimming down, but it’s a surefire way to reduce them, and to improve your overall health to boot.
Everyone knows that cigarettes pose a hazard to your health, inviting a legion of dangerous and even deadly diseases including lung cancer, mouth cancer, and emphysema.
But smoking can also worsen acid reflux by weakening the muscle that helps your stomach contain acid. If you didn’t already have enough good reasons to quit, consider this one more.
Explore alternative therapies
Before you go reaching for that roll of Tums or trotting down to the doctor’s office for a prescription, you should know that you may already have some gentler acid reflux remedies close at hand, perhaps even in your very own kitchen. Keep reading to discover just a few of them.
1. Baking soda
It’s not just an ingredient commonly used in chocolate chip cookies; it’s also a wonderful, natural antacid. In chemistry, baking soda is what’s known as an alkaline substance, meaning it has a pH higher than 7. In other words, it can neutralize acidity.
To gain some instant relief from acid reflux, stir about a teaspoon of baking soda into a glass of water and drink. The alkalinity will help reduce stomach acid and provide some pain relief. However, if you’re on a low-sodium diet, baking soda shouldn’t be used as a go-to remedy, as it’s high in salt and can cause unwanted side effects.
Most people have used aloe vera spray on a bad sunburn, or applied the cool, healing goo of an aloe plant directly to a superficial burn blister.
But did you know that aloe can also be effective for treating the heartburn caused by acid reflux? Because it’s a natural anti-inflammatory, it can help reduce inflammation in the esophagus, providing some much-needed pain relief.
Do note that aloe can have laxative properties, so be careful to choose a brand with the laxative elements removed. These can be purchases in most health food stores. Drinking about 1/2 a cup prior to a meal is a great preventative agent against acid reflux.
3. Slippery elm
This is another herbal remedy known for thickening the mucus that lines your stomach, creating a stronger barrier against corrosive stomach acid. Traditionally, it’s dissolved in water and consumed during meals and before bedtime to prevent chest pain and burning in the throat while sleeping.
4. Other herbal remedies
Many sufferers have reported receiving relief from different herbal remedies including milk thistle, licorice, caraway, angelica, peppermint, German chamomile, and more.
However, some of these remedies have also been shown to aggravate symptoms in certain patients, so you may need to experiment with different combinations before you find the one that’s right for you.
5. Chewing gum
While not precisely a natural remedy, sugar-free chewing gum doesn’t require a prescription or even a visit to the over-the-counter drug aisle of your local convenience store.
However, it is known to have some useful properties for treating acid reflux. Chewing gum after eating is a quick, effective way to stimulate saliva production, which helps to flush acid out of the throat and back into the stomach where it belongs.
Most people know of melatonin as a natural sleep aid, but did you know that there’s some evidence that it can relieve acid reflux symptoms, too? Try popping a few tablets before bedtime. Not only should you experience some relief from heartburn, you should also sleep better than ever.
A Systemic Problem Needs a Systemic Solution
By now it should be clear that acid reflux isn’t a problem limited to just the stomach or the throat, and it can’t be cured by just popping pills.
It’s a systemic problem affecting the whole body, and as such it can only be effectively neutralized with a systemic approach that takes into account everything from diet to sleeping habits to weight to posture and more.
If you want to be rid of this bothersome condition, we suggest using a combination of the remedies described above for optimal relief.
Do you have any experience treating your acid reflux with natural remedies? If so, please leave a comment and tell us about it. We would love to know more about what works for you.