What is Acid Reflux?

Learn how acid reflux can cause heartburn


Acid reflux or heartburn is most often described as an unpleasant acid sensation that rises in the chest and goes up the food pipe. Its cause is the gastric acid that refluxes in the esophagus provoking the pains that in many cases are very similar to asthma. Even though heart problems can cause similar symptoms, heartburn afflictions have nothing in common with the heart.

For a normal person the sphincter (the lower part of the esophagus) would separate the esophagus from the stomach to prevent the gastric acid from coming out. If for any reasons the sphincter relaxes then problems can appear because the gastric acid can return causing heartburn and acid reflux.

The food and drink that lie behind this problem include coffee, coke, fruits that contain a large quantity of citrus acid, spices, dry food, tobacco, chocolate and more. If you have heartburn problems it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to eat any of the things listed above, you just have to check which one of them harms you.

Usually heartburn symptoms are easily recognized so you can even identify the problem yourself or simply have the doctor conduct a professional diagnosis. For repeated heartburn occurrences, its best to have a thorough medical exam performed to find out all the potential risks and to establish a heartburn treatment.

An ambulatory pH monitoring is a useful method for heartburn diagnosis especially used when the symptoms can be connected with a raised level of esophageal acid activity. Another means to diagnose heartburn is the GI test (Upper Gastrointestinal). In this test the patient drinks some barium that shows the problem with the use of an x-ray scanner. If you can’t handle the barium, then a fluoroscopy can be the solution.

Esophageal manometry is a good alternative for heartburn identification too. It uses a pressure sensitive tube to measure pressure within the esophagus. The manometer will take measures from the sphincter and the lower esophagus directly. An endoscope can also be used, using a small camera at the end of a tube that allows the examination of the mouth and the esophagus. This is one of the best methods of determining the health condition of the food pipe and check for possible lesions.

The biopsy procedure proposes a different solution for dealing with any severe heartburn. A small tissue sample is taken from the esophagus and then studied carefully. This method is useful as it can also discover incipient Barrett’s syndrome or cancer, and provide the guidelines for viable heartburn treatments. For prophylactic purposes it’s better not to eat irritating food before bed time, otherwise heartburn may really ruin your night’s rest.

Traditional treatments like antacids, proton pump inhibitors or H2-receptor antagonists will usually work. But if the problem persists ask for a doctor’s opinion.