What is Acid Reflux
Modern society today enjoys the many benefits that various scientific research and discoveries have brought especially on the field of medicine. Innumerable progress had been made, bringing in changes in both understanding and how various diseases are being treated. Nevertheless, it is still an ongoing process.
Various studies have already been done on the human body, but it is only recently that researchers had began to have a good grasp of the many complex illnesses that have been associated with the digestive system, diseases that had been familiar to the average man. Too familiar in fact, that many would dismiss certain digestive illnesses as something common and does not need serious medical attention. Adding more injury to the casual attitude, are the many erroneous understanding that still abound concerning many familiar illnesses, despite recent scientific research on the matter. If left unchecked, this would certainly incur greater harm on the person, for either not knowing any better on how to avoid or properly treat the sickness.
One such case involves acid reflux, also referred to as GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). It occurs quite often with infants although this condition could affect even adults. A common misconception of acid reflux is that it is nothing serious and that it should be ignored. Studies have shown that about 40% of Americans are suffering from GERD, representing quite a high percentage of the adult population. This high frequency of occurrence among sufferers has brought greater medical attention towards better understanding and treatment of the illness.
In this connection, is this particular paper presented to help promote better understanding and bring greater awareness of the possible dangers involved of what is usually dismissed as a common experience.
What is Acid Reflux
When the acidic liquid content within the stomach resurges into the esophagus, this condition is referred to as acid reflux or GERD. As mentioned, this occurs frequently among infants. Under normal conditions, acid reflux would disappear as a person grows. However, due to the interaction of complex factors, this may continue to afflict an individual even in adulthood. The gastric acid inside the stomach is known as the highest causing-factor that could bring the greatest damage to the esophageal soft tissue. Acid reflux has also been found to contain bile and pepsin although their part in bringing harm to the esophagus is still unclear.
Refluxed acid along the lining of the tissues of the esophagus brings the effect of a burning sensation felt by a person on the chest or throat. This is called heartburn, and is common. This should not cause any alarm since such a condition does not necessarily follow that the person has GERD. Patients suffering from GERD have greater acid content in the stomach. The refluxed liquid also tends to stay longer along the lining of their esophagus, compared to those who are not afflicted by gastroesophageal reflux disease. In such case, serious damage may follow such as the swelling and scarring of the esophagus.
Causal Factors Contributing to Acid Reflux
Factors contributing to acid reflux may vary. The vast availability of unhealthy food in the market today or unbalanced diet is one of the primary culprits of gastroesophageal reflux disease. Such basis would only require the patient from discarding unhealthy food choices and adopting a healthier lifestyle. Nonetheless, the issue of acid reflux should not be easily dismissed as of trivial origin. Of graver reason could be due to abnormal physiological conditions.
One could be caused by irregular functioning of the muscles around the lower part of the esophagus which connects to the stomach, the esophageal sphincter. The constant contraction of these muscles and its closing would normally prevent the liquid from the stomach to reflux into the esophagus. Even the esophageal contractions that take place in the esophagus upon the act of swallowing, makes the movement of the tissues to push what is swallowed towards the stomach. But there had been cases wherein certain individuals had been found to display weak contractions of the esophageal sphincter.
Such weak contractions would consequently lead to diminished prevention of gastro-acidic reflux. Also, if the esophageal sphincter would exhibit abnormal time-lapse concerning frequency of contraction, this would open the esophagus to repeated reflux within the esophagus and even towards the throat. Another cause may be the abnormal high level of digestive fluids.
Those that are suffering from hiatal hernia also developed symptoms of GERD. This could cause the esophageal sphincter to come to the level of the chest instead of the diaphragm. The lack of pressure that would have also been contributed by the diaphragm to prevent reflux is reduced thereby conversely increasing the occurrence of acid reflux (G. Fabiola. “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Some Things You Have to Know About”).
The harm that could be caused by the constant exposure of the esophagus from acid reflux should be arrested immediately. Casual attitude towards acid reflux which prolongs its damaging actions would surely lead to serious complications.
While acid reflux is commonly displayed among infants especially in their first three months, persistence of such conditions especially beyond their first year should call serious attention. Severe complications may have already occurred if there is retardation of growth, blood discharges in the mouth, extreme pain upon food intake, and or difficulty in breathing.
Among adults, symptoms of GERD are somewhat ambiguous and may have indefinite characteristics. Individuals suffering from acid reflux may not necessarily experience or exhibit all or either of the more common symptoms such as abdominal pain especially after a meal, abnormal secretion of saliva, an acidic taste in the mouth, or bad breath. It must be noted however, that those who experience more than twice or thrice acid reflux in a week is having a more serious condition that could be categorized as GERD. Serious complications could lead to difficulty in swallowing and breathing, reduced desire for food intake, queasiness in the stomach, inflammation of the throat, blood discharges such as when vomiting (“Symptoms of Acid Reflux”).
Treatment of acid reflux depends largely on the gravity of the illness. While the scales of the percentage of sufferers of GERD among Americans is quite high, indicating that our society at large is going through a stage of unhealthy conditions, most of the responsibility should be taken by the individual to achieve good health.
If the illness is caused by detrimental personal practices, it follows that the person should adopt greater discipline to bring lifestyle changes. There should be a decrease in the intake of GERD causing food or avoided at best such as fatty foods, tomato based products, food containing caffeine, alcohol, spicy food, citrus fruits and fruit drinks, and chocolates (Researchers at Stanford University however have published a work in 2006 that counters these claims as mere fallacies).
Weight reduction also lessens the pressure on the abdomen. Increased weight could increase the pressure on the stomach, causing its contents to be thrust back on the esophagus. Of all the lifestyle modifications which do not include surgery, weight reduction and elevation of the head while lying down have shown the greatest evidence of affectivity in a 2006 review (T Kaltenbach, S Crockett, LB Gerson. “Are Lifestyle Measures Effective in Patients with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease?
An Evidence-Based Approach”). The wearing down of the esophagus could lead to esophageal cancer in some cases (“Just A Few Extra Pounds Increases Women’s Risk of Reflux”). Tight clothes create the same condition on the stomach. It also recommended that a person should stay upright for three hours after every meal, and should avoid lying down.
Cigarettes hinder the production of saliva which acts as a neutralizer of refluxed acid from the stomach. Moreover, it causes an increase of acid within the stomach and slows down the contraction of the esophageal sphincter. Alcoholic beverages also cause the same effect as that of cigarettes and therefore should be avoided.
Mild medical treatment could include over-the-counter antacids, omeprazole (Prilosec OTC), or H2 blockers that slow down acid production. However severe state of acid reflux may employ surgery such as fundoplication surgery. This involves the process of strengthening the LES (lower esophageal sphincter) by attaching to it the tissues of upper part of the stomach. Another medical treatment of GERD is referred to radiofrequency treatment. Radiofrequency energy is applied to the LES and the immediate upper part of the stomach which help increase the thickness of the tissues on the lower esophageal sphincter (S. Gillson. “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease”).
Persistence of the symptoms of acid reflux had been suspected to raise the risk of developing esophageal cancer. An astonishing survey done by the American Cancer Society has undoubtedly nailed the facts that less than 13,000 Americans had been detected to have esophageal cancer. Even more distressing are the figures which show that about 12,000 die because of it (“Study Searches for Link Between Acid Reflux Disease and Esophageal Cancer”).
This is not a laughing matter. It should not even be left for intellectual discussion. It is a matter that requires action.
The government should put into action public health measures beginning in the school system. It should reevaluate educational programs that would promote good health among students. Stricter regulations should be given on the abundant availability of sodas and chocolates in schools. Thus, government health agencies must coordinate with school canteens to help offer healthy choices of food for the students.
It is also needful that our government should learn to ‘bite the bullet’ so to speak, to regulate companies who manufacture unhealthy products. On the other hand, businesses that help promote healthy food should be encouraged through giving of various incentives and assistance. Also, stricter measures against GERD causing factors such as smoking, drinking of alcoholic beverages would greatly help reduce the problem. These generations of Americans, including the next, are and will certainly face greater number of societal and global issues. It cannot therefore afford to be weak, health wise. Cliché as it may sound, “Health is still wealth”.
Fabiola, G. “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease: Some Things You Have to Know About”
“Symptoms of Acid Reflux”.
Kaltenbach T, Crockett S, Gerson LB. “Are Lifestyle Measures Effective in Patients with Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease? An Evidence-Based Approach”. Arch Intern Med 2006; 166:965-71. PMID 16682569.
“Just A Few Extra Pounds Increases Women’s Risk of Reflux”. Women’s Health News. June 4, 2006. http://www.news-medical.net/?id=18221
Gillson, S. “Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease”
“Study Searches for Link Between Acid Reflux Disease and Esophageal Cancer”. March 16, 2006. http://news.uky.edu/news/display_article.php?category=0&artid=1115&type=1