What Causes It?
The stomach acid and enzymes are chemicals that help in partial digestion of the food in the stomach by breaking them down for use by the body. For further digestion, the stomach muscle sends this partially digested food with acid content to the small intestine. However for people suffering from acid reflux, this partially digested stomach acid content goes back to the esophagus causing its inflammation and injury. The burning sensation in the esophagus caused by the acid has given rise to the term ‘heartburn’ as the esophagus is located just behind the heart. In adult population, the incidence of acid reflux is 10% on weekly or daily basis with the disease affecting the children also. In the USA, one-third of the adults suffer from GERD (Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease) at least once a month to some extent.
The supine (lying down) position especially with full stomach contributes a lot to acid reflux in people. Eating fatty foods and chocolate, drinking caffeinated beverages and alcohol and smoking are major contributing agents. Constipation, pregnancy and obesity by increasing pressure inside the abdomen causes the stomach acid content to be pushed back into the esophagus.
The Problem and the Treatment
The disease causes discomfort which affects work and social life. The heartburn is bothersome and esophagitis resulting from persistent reflux may lead to ulceration of esophagus lining. This makes eating and drinking painful. Continuous medication is necessary to treat this disease as symptoms tend to recur on withdrawal of drugs. Medications used to treat acid reflux aim at blocking histamine, a chemical that releases more acid in the stomach during inflammation. Blocking histamine reduces production of acid. Also for treating the most common symptoms of mild acid reflux like heartburn or indigestion, Antacids are the most used medications for neutralizing the stomach acid. They are however not recommended for treating GERD, the chronic condition for acid reflux.