Acid reflux is a common sensation that most people have experienced at least once. It occurs when the contents in your stomach (usually stomach acid and bile) move into your esophagus. This causes the uncomfortable burning sensation of heartburn and can also lead to other symptoms, like chest pain and nausea.
If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms more than two times a week, you may have a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD. Data from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases shows that nearly 20% of Americans suffer from GERD.
Regardless of whether you have GERD or the occasional acid reflux flare-up, the pain and discomfort that goes along with it can be hard to tolerate. So what can you do to manage it?
Read on to learn more.
Causes of acid reflux/GERD
Acid reflux can be difficult to treat because there’s no single cause behind it. However, when one of your many bodily mechanisms doesn’t work as it should, it increases your susceptibility to it.
At the end of your esophagus is a pivotal muscle—the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES. When it works properly, it opens when you swallow and then closes. Acid reflux happens when it doesn’t close all the way, allowing digestive juices to make their way back up.
In addition to this muscular issue, possible causes of acid reflux and GERD include:
- Lying down immediately after eating a large meal
- Eating too many large meals
- A hiatal hernia
If you experience acid reflux regularly, try to figure out whether one of those problems is behind it.
Factors that increase your risk for GERD
As mentioned, there’s no single cause behind acid reflux or GERD. However, many factors can increase your risk of developing it. Some of these include:
- Drinking certain beverages like coffee or alcohol
- Living with a connective tissue disorder
In addition to these health factors and lifestyle choices, some people find that certain foods also lead to acid reflux. Some of the common culprits include:
- Fatty foods (fast food, fried food, etc.)
Unfortunately, food triggers can often be personal, making it difficult to link acid reflux to a particular food or ingredient.
Conditions that can exacerbate GERD and acid reflux
While acid reflux and GERD can cause substantial discomfort on their own, certain conditions can exacerbate symptoms.
Anxiety is one of these. Research from 2015 seems to link anxiety and acid reflux (1). When one condition flares up, it can lead to the other worsening as well. Because of that, resolving either issue may require treatment of both.
Asthma is another issue that can cause acid reflux to worsen. If you have asthma, GERD and acid reflux can make it worse. Likewise, asthma and certain asthma medications can increase your chances of developing GERD.
Get the relief you need
Identifying the exact cause behind acid reflux and GERD can be challenging. However, by looking at your lifestyle and overall health, you might be able to find factors that are causing it to be more severe.
If making simple lifestyle and health changes doesn’t resolve the issue, don’t be afraid to visit a medical professional for help.