Against the background of increased acidity of the stomach or for a number of physiological reasons, acid reflux may develop – a disease accompanied by acid belching, hiccups, and an unpleasant taste in the mouth. In the absence of timely treatment, which consists in observing a diet and a proper diet, the disease can lead to serious damage to the mucous membranes of the esophagus and other negative consequences.
What is acid reflux?
Involuntary reflux of the contents of the stomach into the esophagus is called acid reflux (other designations are gastroesophageal reflux disease, heartburn, reflux esophagitis). This process occurs due to a violation of the mechanism of the gastroesophageal valve (lower esophageal sphincter), which performs the function of passing chewed food into the stomach on the one hand, and prevents the possibility of acid contents getting back into the esophagus, on the other.
This part of the digestive canal is not protected by a special epithelium, therefore esophageal reflux can lead to damage to the pharynx or vocal cords with hydrochloric acid, cause pain and discomfort. Prolonged contact of the mucous membranes of the esophagus with an acidic gastric environment containing digestive enzymes can contribute to the development of inflammation.
Gastroesophageal reflux in some cases is a normal physiological phenomenon – if it occurs immediately after a meal, it does not cause discomfort and occurs with a small frequency. With an increase in the number of refluxes during the day, especially at night, lengthening the duration of episodes, the appearance of a burning sensation in the throat, sour or bitter taste in the oral cavity, we can talk about the development of gastroesophageal disease.
The lack of timely treatment for reflux leads to an increased risk of diseases such as gastric ulcer, cancer of the esophagus, Barrett’s disease. In the early stages, in most cases, medication is not required – you only need to follow the correct diet, a certain diet, abandon bad habits and consume certain foods. In advanced cases, after a visual examination of the gastroenterologist, an endoscopy or x-ray of the esophagus, pH-metry, measurement of pressure and degree of closure of the gastroesophageal valve are prescribed.
Causes of Acid Reflux
Gastric reflux can develop for physiological reasons, be a concomitant symptom of certain diseases of the digestive tract, or as a result of regular abuse of food products, causing an increase in the acidity of the stomach. The main causes of reflux, doctors consider:
- congenital anatomical features of the esophageal sphincter;
- regular overeating, malnutrition;
- overweight, obesity;
- low levels of digestive enzymes in the gastric juice;
- diaphragmatic hernia;
- peptic ulcer of the stomach or duodenum;
- bronchial asthma or other chronic diseases, accompanied by regular coughing, weakening the esophageal sphincter;
- regular administration of painkillers or oral antibiotics;
- smoking, alcohol abuse;
- pregnancy (especially in the later stages or with multiple pregnancy, when the pressure of the greatly increased uterus increases on the internal organs of the abdominal cavity).
Symptoms of Acid Reflux
At the beginning of the development of the disease, attacks of heartburn (both after meals and independently), belching accompanied by ingestion of the contents of the stomach become more frequent. Many patients complain of nausea, frequent hiccups, a burning sensation, or a sore throat. Other symptoms of reflux are:
- difficulty swallowing (dysphagia);
- difficulty in passing food through the esophagus;
- a feeling of bloating in the epigastric region;
- chest pain (in the areas of the esophagus);
- mucosal erosion and tooth enamel damage;
- coughing attacks;
- hoarseness of the voice (with damage to the vocal cords).
Experts diagnose gastric reflux or esophageal reflux on the basis of a patient survey to identify all the symptoms and the results of a number of modern diagnostic procedures. Endoscopy can detect erosive damage, ulcers or inflammation in the lower part of the digestive canal. Analyzes are carried out to assess the condition of the walls of the esophagus (by X-ray examination with a contrast medium) and their contractility (manometry).
The degree of acidity of the gastric juice is determined. If necessary, the pressure and degree of closure of the gastroesophageal valve are measured. In a number of severe, neglected cases, the patient is additionally prescribed a biopsy to assess the degree of damage to the mucous membranes, the risks of developing malignant degeneration of damaged tissues. Accurate diagnosis helps determine the severity of the disease and select an appropriate treatment regimen.
To reduce the burden on the digestive tract when diagnosed, acid reflux should be eaten in small portions, often at regular intervals (every 4 hours). The last meal should be carried out no later than two hours before bedtime. Foods that exacerbate symptoms are excluded from the diet – chocolate, coffee, dairy products, citrus fruits, sour juices, spices, alcohol, fatty, fried and spicy foods. The diet includes antioxidant products that reduce the acidity of the gastric juice, preventing further damage to the mucous membranes:
- orange vegetables and fruits containing antacids: persimmons, apricots, pumpkin, bell peppers;
- bananas, potatoes, and other potassium-containing foods;
- leafy greens (parsley, basil, spinach);
- nuts (almonds, pistachios, walnuts);
- berries (blueberries, blackberries);
- lean meat of chicken, turkey;
- low-fat fish;
- cereals (millet, rice);
- wholemeal bread.