Acid Reflux Causes

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Acid reflux, otherwise known as GERD or gastro-esophageal reflux disease is a common condition whereby the acid content of the stomach comes back or refluxes back up into the esophagus. The symptoms of acid reflux include nausea, heartburn and regurgitation. Complications of acid reflux include coughs, asthma, throat and larynx inflammation, ulcers and strictures of the esophagus, infection of the lungs and collection of fluid in the sinuses and middle ear.

What Causes Acid Reflux?

The causes of acid reflux are complex – it really depends on what sex you are, what food you eat, your age and if you have any other medical conditions. A small amount of acid reflux patients suffer with the problem simply because they naturally produce too much acid, although this is uncommon and is definitely not true of all patients. Other contributing factors to acid reflux disease are lower esophageal sphincter abnormalities, abnormal esophageal contractions, slow or prolonged emptying of the stomach and hiatal hernias.

The lower esophageal sphincter works to close off the passage between the esophagus and the stomach, which helps to prevent reflux. This muscle is usually at work most of the time, but if there is an abnormality acid reflux may occur. One of the most common abnormalities associated with the lower esophageal sphincter is when the sphincter is weak, meaning that contractions are not strong enough to prevent reflux. Another abnormality is known as transient lower esophageal sphincter relaxation, whereby the muscle relaxes for a prolonged period of time, up to several minutes, allowing acid to reflux into the esophagus.

Hiatal hernias are thought to contribute to acid reflux symptoms although it’s not known exactly how the hernia causes symptoms. A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper section of the stomach slips through a hole in the diaphragm known as the esophageal hiatus. It’s thought that the reason hiatal hernias cause acid reflux symptoms could be because the lower esophageal sphincter is in a different location. Another reason could be because a hiatal hernia causes there to be a hernial sac, which could trap acid and cause it to reflux into the esophagus.

Esophageal contractions could also contribute to acid reflux. These contractions are basically caused by swallows, and swallowing is imperative in preventing acid reflux. Swallowing causes a ‘wave’ of contractions through the esophagus, pushing food and acid down into the stomach. When acid reflux occurs, it may be due to this ‘wave’ of contractions being out of sync or not being strong enough to push the acid back down into the stomach.

Another cause of acid reflux disease in up to 20% of patients is thought to be due to abnormally slow emptying of the stomach. It’s known that this slow emptying of the stomach means that there is a longer period of time during which reflux could occur. It isn’t known why these individuals may suffer with these stomach problems, although it is known that it is a contributing factor to GERD and acid reflux.

Smoking is also thought to increase the likelihood that acid reflux will occur. This is because smoking relaxes the muscles in the esophagus, meaning that acid has a much higher chance of being able to make it into the esophagus. This relaxing effect is thought to occur right up to six hours after the individual last smoked a cigarette.

Various medications are also thought to contribute to acid reflux, including anticholinergics, antihypertensives (high blood pressure medication) such as beta-blockers or calcium channel blockers, drugs that have an effect on your dopamine levels, progestin, tricyclic antidepressants and sedatives. Speak to your doctor if you believe any of your medications may be causing acid reflux symptoms to see if they could swap you to another type of medication. Do not stop taking any medication, even if you are suffering with acid reflux.