What is Acid Reflux Disease: Causes, Risk Factors, Symptoms, Treatment, Prevention

What is Acid Reflux Disease?

Acid reflux disease is a common complaint experienced by many people. It causes burning pain and various other problems. It is necessary to know the causes of acid reflux disease, its symptoms, risk factors and prevention of this disease. For that a brief understanding of the structure and its function is important.

What is Acid Reflux Disease

The food that we consume passes through the esophagus to reach the stomach and the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is responsible for preventing the backflow of the gastric content. Lower esophageal sphincter or LES is basically a bundle of muscles located at the base of the esophagus which opens in response to swallowed food. If small amount of digested food or stomach acid escapes or washes back to the esophagus it may cause burning pain or heartburn. Experiencing occasional heartburn especially after larger meals is normal in healthy people. But, if the episodes prolong then it may be a serious indicator of acid reflux disease. If left undiagnosed or untreated it may damage the esophageal lining and other organs in oral cavity, leading to esophageal cancer or respiratory problems.

Acid reflux disease is a chronic condition where the stomach acid moves upward to the esophagus when the muscle of esophageal or LES remains open for longer period of time or doesn’t close completely after food consumption. The chronic type of acid reflux disease is referred as GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. This condition is diagnosed when the patient experiences the symptoms of acid reflux disease at least 2-3 times in a week.

Causes and Risk Factors of Acid Reflux Disease

Acid reflux disease is mainly caused when the lower esophageal sphincter or LES becomes weak and malfunctions, thereby allowing the stomach acid to reflux or backflow to the esophagus. Stomach abnormalities, other body abnormalities and other factors like obesity, diet and pregnancy may also contribute to acid reflux disease.

Medications and Diet

Some of the common causes of acid reflux disease is a faulty diet and certain medications. Bloating of stomach is usually caused by overeating or consuming larger meals which exerts pressure on lower esophageal sphincter. This results in reflux or back flowing of stomach acid to the esophagus. Apart from this, carbonated beverages, tomato based sauces, citrus fruits and fatty foods can worsen the symptoms of acid reflux Disease. Anti-inflammatory drugs, calcium channel blockers and narcotic pain relievers may also contribute to acid reflux disease.


It is found that people with increased body weight are likely to experience the episodes of acid reflux disease frequently. Although the exact mechanism is still vague, but one possible explanation is that the changes in physiology and gastroesophageal anatomy affects the lower esophageal sphincter functions, which may lead to acid reflux disease in obese people.


Another commonest cause of acid reflux disease in women is pregnancy. It has been found that 30-50 percent of pregnant women experience the symptoms of acid reflux disease or GERD because of maternal hormone progesterone. Besides relaxing the uterine muscles in pregnant women, the progesterone also dampens the functions of the lower esophageal sphincter muscles which allow the stomach acid to flow back to the throat and esophagus, thus causing acid reflux disease.

Hiatus Hernia

This is an abnormal medical condition that usually occurs when a portion of stomach acid pushes back through the opening of the diaphragm to reach the lower chest cavity. Hiatus hernia is a common cause of acid reflux disease in some people.

Peptic Ulcers

Peptic ulcers can also cause reflux of stomach acid because the food you consume is unable to move further efficiently, thus causing reflux.


People who are diabetic may also have gastroparesis, which is a condition where the stomach takes longer period of time to get empty, thus enabling the stomach content to reflux back and cause heartburn.

Connective Tissue Disorders

In some cases, the connective tissue disorders may also cause Acid Reflux Disease because the thicker muscular tissues prevent the muscles in stomach from relaxing and contracting efficiently which may lead to reflux.

Zollinger Ellison Syndrome

It is a condition characterized by higher level of stomach acid which is caused mainly because of the tumor on the small intestine or pancreas. This condition also increases the risk of acid reflux disease.

Weak musculature is one of the common causes of acid reflux disease. Preterm babies, whose system is not fully developed or those with weak muscles and sphincter control may experience acid reflux disease.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux Disease

Reoccurring sensation of pain around the chest and heartburn are the most common symptoms of acid reflux disease. Some of the common symptoms of acid reflux disease include

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest pain and stomach aching
  • Sore throat, laryngitis and hoarseness
  • Chronic coughing
  • Pain while swallowing
  • Wheezing
  • Recurrent pneumonia and asthma
  • Dental erosion
  • Burping
  • Bloating
  • Bloody stool and vomiting
  • Hiccups

Diagnosis of Acid Reflux Disease

Acid reflux disease can easily be treated. If you experience acid reflux disease symptoms twice in a week or if your antacids are not sufficient to relieve the symptoms, then it is the time to see a physician. History taking and clinical examination may reveal important findings. Some of the tests for acid reflux disease include:

Upper GI Series – This test involves using X-ray imaging to assess the upper gastro-intestinal (GI) tract for reflux, ulcers and physical abnormalities like hiatus hernia. In order to aid visualization, the patient is asked to drink chalky liquid containing barium.

Upper Endoscopy – It is an invasive procedure, but it is the most precise test to detect acid reflux disease related complications and injuries including inflammation, tumors and ulcers. The process involve numbing of throat through which a small camera connected to a thin tube is inserted through the throat to access the esophagus to detect the injured tissue and also to collect samples if required.

Esophageal Monitoring – It is also referred as pH monitoring or manometry assess of the function and environment of esophagus. This test is carried out to measure the levels of acid in the esophagus and the severity of the reflux in the lower esophagus.

Treatment of Acid Reflux Disease

In many cases, the acid reflux disease can be relieved with certain preventive measures and lifestyle changes, while in some serious cases medications and treatments are required which include antacids and other drugs.

  • Treating Acid Reflux Disease with H2 Blockers – It slows down the production of acid
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors for Treatment of Acid reflux Disease – It slows the acid production in stomach
  • Foaming Agents – It coats the stomach with protective layer
  • Prokinetics – It improves the stomach’s ability to flush out the stomach quickly

In some extreme causes, surgery is prescribed to treat the condition of acid reflux disease.

Preventive Measures for Acid Reflux Disease

  • Avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol is one of the best ways to prevent Acid Reflux Disease
  • Avoid foods and beverages that trigger reflux
  • Maintain healthy weight and avoid wearing tight clothes
  • Don’t eat large meals before lying down
  • One can also prevent acid reflux disease by eating small meals more frequently in day instead 2-3 larger meals in a day
  • Drink enough water and take foods that soothe acid reflux.
  • Change your sleeping position
  • Consult your physician for treatment of acid reflux disease.

Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 5, 2017

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