Acid Reflux refers to flow of stomach juices into the esophagus. While the periodic presence of the stomach’s liquid contents in the esophagus is normal, the amount of these juices, their acidity, and the frequency with which this reflux takes place can often become excessive. The result can be creates irritation of the lining of esophagus.
At the juncture of the stomach and esophagus is a sphincter muscle that closes to
prevent too much of the acidic liquid in the stomach from entering the esophagus. Sometimes this reflex for closing off the upward movement of stomach acid functions poorly (and the valve opens at inappropriate times) or the contents of the stomach become to acidic, or both, resulting in a sensation of burning in the chest or throat.
GERD: also known as acid reflux, is an acronym that stands for gastroesophageal reflux disease. It is a chronic illness that affects 5-7% of the world population and is associated with serious medical complications if untreated. GERD is the 3rd most common gastrointestinal disorder in the U.S. Most patients with GERD also experience nighttime heartburn, which is more bothersome. adults in America who experience nighttime heartburn are more likely to report having symptoms of sleep problems/disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, daytime sleepiness and restless legs syndrome than those who don’t have nighttime heartburn.
GERD describes a backflow of acid from the stomach into the esophagus. Most patients with GERD experience an increase in the severity of symptoms (usually heartburn or coughing and choking) while sleeping or attempting to sleep. If the acid backs up as far as the throat and larynx, the sleeper will wake up coughing and choking. If the acid only backs up as far as the esophagus the symptom is usually experienced as heartburn.
Most people refer to GERD as heartburn, although you can have it without heartburn. Sometimes GERD can cause serious complications including inflammation of the esophagus from stomach acid that causes bleeding or ulcers. In a relatively small number of patients, GERD has been reported to result in a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which over time can lead to cancer. Also, studies have shown that asthma, chronic cough, and pulmonary fibrosis may be aggravated or even caused by GERD.
GERD is common and may be frequently overlooked in children. It can cause repeated vomiting, coughing, and other respiratory problems. Talk to your child’s doctor if the problem occurs regularly and causes discomfort.
No one knows why people get GERD but factors that may contribute to it include:
Also, certain foods can be associated with reflux events, including:
- citrus fruits
- drinks with caffeine
- fatty and fried foods
- garlic and onions
- mint flavorings
- spicy foods
- tomato-based foods, like spaghetti sauce, chili, and pizza
GERD affects people of all ages, ethnicities and cultures and tends to run in families.
The most frequently reported symptoms of GERD are:
- Acid regurgitation
- Inflammation of the gums
- Erosion of the enamel of the teeth
- Bad breath
- Chronic sore throat
Some patients with GERD experience no symptoms at all. Because of the wide range of symptoms associated with GERD and the need to distinguish it from heart-related problems, the number of medical visits and tests needed to diagnose or rule out the disease tends to be quite high.
GERD is a recurrent and chronic disease that does not resolve itself. If you are diagnosed with GERD, there are several methods of treatment which your doctor will discuss with you including behavioral modifications, medications, surgery, or a combination of methods. Over-the-counter medications may provide temporary relief but will not prevent symptoms from recurring.
The lifestyle changes you can make to minimize GERD include avoiding fats, onions, chocolate and alcohol. Losing weight may also help alleviate GERD symptoms.
Because of the association between GERD and sleep apnea, people with nighttime GERD symptoms should be screening for sleep apnea.
These lifestyle modifications should help minimize reflux:
- Avoid lying down after a large meal
- Eat smaller meals and maintain an upright, relaxed posture
- Avoid fats, onions, chocolate and alcohol
- Avoid potassium supplements
- Always swallow medication in the upright position and wash it down with lots of water
More than 60 million Americans have heartburn at least once a month. I’m one of them. In fact, I was found to have gastroesophageal reflux disorder—aka GERD, more commonly known as acid reflux—back in college because of just how frequently I was getting heartburn.
- If you have acid reflux or even occasional heartburn after a spicy meal, you know that it can keep you awake tossing and turning. Here’s what I’ve learned about coping with acid reflux so it doesn’t get in the way of a good night’s sleep.
- Acid reflux is the name for what happens when stomach acid makes its way up into the esophagus. Most often it’s because the lower esophageal sphincter, a muscle valve that is supposed to keep stomach acid where it belongs—in your stomach— isn’t working properly.
- There are a few things that can loosen the muscle, making it easier for acid to shoot back up. Eating certain foods, like citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate, peppermint, garlic, onions, and anything spicy, fatty, or fried, is one of the biggest causes. So is drinking coffee, soda, or alcohol. Obesity and pregnancy can also lead to acid reflux because they put pressure on your abdomen, which can weaken your lower esophageal sphincter.
- As I can attest, heartburn is usually worse at night, and that can make falling (and staying) asleep more difficult. “Most people are prone to acid reflux when they lie down,” says Scott Huber, MD, gastroenterologist at the Institute for Digestive Health and Liver Disease at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. When you’re lying down, you don’t have gravity to pull acid back down into your stomach the way you do when you’re sitting or standing up, Huber explains.
- There are a few simple lifestyle changes you can make to ensure acid reflux doesn’t cost you a good night’s sleep.
- 1. Stop eating and drinking three hours before bed. primary care physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, suggests nixing late-night snacks and cutting off food and drink three hours before hitting the sheets. The less acid you have in your stomach when you lie down, the less likely you are to experience heartburn at night. (Late-night eating is also associated with weight gain, as a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has shown.)
- 2. Make lunch your biggest meal of the day. Eating a big meal can put pressure on your stomach and allow acid to travel back up into your esophagus—and that will only be compounded if you lie down soon afterward. To prevent a major case of acid reflux at night, Huber recommends eating a heavier lunch and a lighter dinner. (And think about skipping the sugar before bed, since it also interferes with sleep.) I’ve started to spend a few hours on Sunday meal prep so that I can get more substantial lunches ready for the week.
- 3. Avoid trigger foods and drinks. For me, that would be tomatoes. And coffee. And red wine. (By the way, here’s how alcohol affects sleep.) the intake of foods and beverages that you know give you heartburn—not just at night, but all the time.
- 4. Wear loose pajamas. Clothing that’s too tight can put pressure on your stomach, leading to the back-flow of acid into your esophagus, While you probably aren’t wearing Spanx leggings to bed since that wouldn’t be comfortable anyway, it’s still worth pointing out that if you have acid reflux, loose pajamas are the best option. (Of course, you could always ditch the PJs altogether and sleep naked.)
- 5. Elevate your head in bed. Keeping your head up is ideal if you experience acid reflux at night, says Huber. Piling up the pillows isn’t the best way to go about this, though, as pillows are liable to shift. An adjustable base might be a better option for you if you have acid reflux, says Huber. Adjustable bases make it easy to get into a sleeping position that will help mitigate symptoms.