Are you experiencing heartburn more frequently? Do you feel uncomfortable or not so good feeling with certain foods? This could be due to acid reflux or acidity which is common in adults and can increase with age. Knowing what to do about it can help in every way.
Acidity or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is a common condition caused due to reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus that leads to undesirable symptoms like nausea, bitter taste in the mouth, water brash, or even vomiting.1 Expert believes that the prevalence of GERD or acidity is increasing and is more common in aging people and those who are obese.1
Why Does Acidity Increase With Age?
Aging brings a host of new symptoms and acidity is one of them.
Studies have reported that aging brings several physiological changes in the pharynx, esophagus, and stomach that increase the risk of esophageal and gastrointestinal disorders. There are co-morbid factors like Helicobacter pylori infection, smoking, other medical conditions, intake of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that increase the risk of acid-related disorders such as acid reflux, esophagitis, peptic ulcer, and complications of some medications in aging people.2
Acidity or acid reflux mainly occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) – which is a muscle that acts as a valve and prevents the backflow of stomach contents into the esophagus. However, due to certain factors when the muscular valve does not close properly the stomach contents can easily regurgitate into the esophagus and cause symptoms of acidity or heartburn.
There are many reasons why acidity increases with age. The most important factors that increase the risk of acidity with an increase in age include aging muscles, weight gain, certain medications, and the presence of hiatus hernia in some people.3
As you grow older your muscles begin to weaken. This particularly affects the lower esophageal sphincter, which mainly controls the movement of the food in the right direction when you eat. However, as laxity and weakness of muscles increase with age, the muscular valve fails to close tightly and easily increases the chances of stomach contents flowing back into the esophagus. The inability of muscles to perform efficiently is one of the major factors that result in increased acidity and other digestive problems with age.
It is common to have some health concerns with increasing age and with it comes the intake of certain medications to control those conditions. Medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce pain and swelling of joints, opiates, blood pressure-lowering drugs, and antidepressants are commonly prescribed for existing ailments. People who are taking such medicines are at greater risk of experiencing acidity with an increase in age.
Many elderly people carry excess weight and being overweight can be a risk factor for acidity too. The laxity of muscles increases with excess weight, the lower esophageal sphincter is unable to close properly, thus increasing the risk of acidity in aging people.
When the upper part of the stomach pushes up into the chest cavity by herniation it is called a hiatal hernia. This is a common condition in elderly adults. While most of these are small and may not cause many problems, complaints of acidity are common and bigger ones may need treatment. As the risk of hiatal hernia increases with aging, it also increases the chances of increasing acidity with age.
Making some changes to your eating patterns, food choices and lifestyle can help control the acidity that increased with aging. For persistent complaints, it is advisable to seek a medical opinion.
Other digestive system-related complaints that can put aging people at greater risk are the presence of conditions like constipation, recurrent episodes of acidity, diverticulitis, fatty liver and colon cancer.4
What To Do About Acidity?
What to do about increased acidity mainly depends on the underlying causes of acidity. In addition, following a healthy diet and routine and some important tips to relieve heartburn and acidity can help.
Tips To Manage Symptoms of Acidity:
- Drink cool water or suck on ice when feeling nauseated or if symptoms are worse
- Do not lie down immediately after eating – Rest in a reclining position if needed
- If you have heartburn at night, elevate your bed or maintain a reclining position by adjusting pillow support.
- Eat smaller meals – take a small quantity of food at small intervals
- Avoid eating late at night
- Take a short walk for some time to aid digestion
Diet and Lifestyle Tips To Manage Acidity That Has Increased With Age:
Change in Medications – Changing the medications that may be causing increased acidity is very important. Limiting or completely restricting the intake of painkillers can help relieve the symptoms of acidity. Let your doctor know about it to consider changing the medicine prescription.
Manage Weight – If you are overweight, your doctor may advise you to lose excess weight. Begin slowly but continue till you have achieved your goals. Even if you shed a few pounds, it can have a great impact on your digestion and will help relieve symptoms of acidity.
Diet – Choose foods that are bland, less spicy, or only those you can tolerate well. Use fresh herbs instead of heavy seasonings. Avoid high fatty food, packaged or refined foods. Avoid carbonated drinks and limit tea, coffee, and alcohol or best completely avoid them.
Lifestyle – Avoid smoking. Plan a healthy routine that includes a balance of rest and physical activity based on your health status. Go for walks in the morning or evenings, be active during the day, and take a short nap, if needed but sleep well at the night.
In elderly people with acidity, sometimes the symptoms are subtle or may be delayed. Hence it is important to pay attention to any complaint related to eating or appetite changes. Symptoms of nausea, vomiting, dyspepsia, indigestion, and repeated water brash must be evaluated. Signs of weight loss, anemia or persistent abdominal pain, or heartburn need immediate medical attention.
Diagnosis is often done based on clinical complaints and investigations like endoscopy may be done if required. Medical treatment includes proton pump inhibitors to reduce complaints of acidity, limiting or stopping anti-inflammatory drugs, and appropriate changes in diet and lifestyle.