Acid reflux is a major digestive problem of the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract that troubles many people. Under normal conditions, the stomach uses its acid to break down the food we eat into the energy our body needs to operate. Sometimes the stomach allows that same acid to be burped up into the esophagus to irritate that area (reflux) or to irritate its own lining causing heartburn. Heartburn is the most common symptom of a condition physicians refer to as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

What Happens?

Reflux is most commonly associated with heartburn.The word "heartburn" was coined because the pain from reflux is felt right behind the breastbone, where the inflamed esophagus is located. Reflux may result in little or no heartburn in some patients, or in severe symptoms affecting the esophagus in others.

Why does it happen?

There are several reasons why certain people suffer from acid reflux disease, including: Weakness in muscle tone at the base of the esophagus. This weakness allows acid to escape upward from the stomach. Some reasons for the weakness are physical conditions, while others are directly related to personal habits.

Overeating is another common cause of gastric reflux. Eating a large meal at a single sitting fills the stomach with so much food that the stomach presses up against the esophagus, forcing stomach contents, including acid, to reflux upwards. This can be even more likely to happen with bending over, perhaps to clear the table, after eating.

Some medications, certain food, and heavy drinking can cause reflux by relaxing the muscle at the base of the esophagus or increasing the time the stomach remains full, allowing stomach contents to flow upward. If you are taking any other medications, you should ask your doctor if any of those drugs decrease pressure, thereby increasing the risk for reflux.

Can I stop it?

Your doctor will evaluate your condition and decide on a treatment plan that is right for you. That plan may include lifestyle modifications to help relieve the symptoms of acid reflux disease. Whatever your doctor advises, it is important to follow every part of the treatment plan and to continue it as long as directed.

- Avoid certain foods that are spicy, acidic, tomato-based, or fatty such as sausages, chocolate,   tomatoes, and citrus fruits.

- Avoid alcohol, tea, colas, and coffee, even decaffeinated.

- Eat moderate amounts of food to avoid overfilling your stomach.

- Stop, or at least cut back, on smoking.

- Don't try to exercise immediately after eating.

- Wait at least 3 to 4 hours after eating before lying down.

- Elevate the head of your bed by 6 inches or use extra pillows to raise the level of your    head above your feet.

- Avoid tight belts and other restrictive clothing.

- Talk to your doctor about drugs that may decrease LES pressure.

- Lose weight (if overweight, weight loss appears to help alleviate the symptoms)

Should I see a doctor?

There is help for those reflux sufferers who are not relieved by lifestyle changes alone. It is medical help, and it begins with a visit to the doctor for medical diagnosis and a treatment program. If you are experiencing frequent heartburn, indigestion, or stomach pain, you may have a more serious medical problem - or one that could become serious if left untreated.

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