Acid Reflux (Heartburn)
Acid reflux is a condition where the acidic stomach contents flows backwards up into the food pipe (oesophagus). It is sometimes referred to as heartburn which is the most common symptom of acid reflux. The proper medical term for this condition is gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is the most common upper gastrointestinal condition globally. Every person experiences the odd bout of acid reflux at some point or the other. Many of us just refer to it as indigestion and it passes on its own within a few hours. But for some people, acid reflux is an ongoing problem that affects them everyday. In these cases it needs proper medical management on a long term basis.
The symptoms of acid reflux is a result of stomach acid and digestive enzymes entering the oeophagus which is not able to withstand these corrosive substances.
- Heartburn is the most common symptom. It is a burning chest pain.
- Nausea is also present in most cases and may occur even when heartburn cannot be perceived.
- Regurgitation is the passing up of the stomach contents into the mouth. It is not vomiting.
Most people label these symptoms as indigestion. In more severe cases of acid reflux where the stomach acid can reach the throat or mouth, a person may experience difficulty swallowing, a dry cough, sore throat and hoarse voice. Even bending over can trigger symptoms. Acid reflux generally worsens at night and these symptoms may awaken a person from sleep.
Some people have what is known as silent acid reflux where there are almost none of these common symptoms. However, these people tend to report a sourish taste in the mouth when awakening after sleep and a sore throat in the morning that gradually eases during the course of the day only to recur again the next morning.
Normally food and drink passes from the mouth, down the throat, into the oesophagus and enters the stomach. The junction between the oesophagus and stomach is guarded by a group of muscles (lower oesophageal sphincter) which work together to open and close this part of the gut. It allows food and fluid to enter the stomach from the oesophagus. But it stays closed most of the time to prevent the contents within the stomach from passing back up into the oesophagus.
The stomach produces and contains strong hydrochloric acid and powerful digestive enzymes necessary for digestion. A healthy stomach can easily handle the acid and enzymes and it does not damage the stomach wall in any way. The oesophagus is not able to content with the strong acid and powerful enzymes. When the lower oesophageal sphincter fails to prevent the back flow of acid and enzymes from the stomach into the oesophagus, these substances damage the wall of the oesophagus. This is the cause of the symptoms of acid reflux.
Most chronic cases of acid reflux is a result of the lower oesophageal sphincter becoming dysfunctional. For whatever reason these muscles lose the ability to keep the junction between the oesophagus and stomach tightly closed. However, there are a range of factors that can worsen it, such as:
- Lying on the tummy after a large meal
- Abdominal obesity
These factors do not usually cause acid reflux but simply contribute to it.
Acid reflux can be effectively treated. In fact some of the most widely sold over-the-counter (OTC) medication in pharmacies is to treat acid reflux. Allopathic treatment includes drugs that neutralise stomach acid (like antacids), drugs that suppress stomach acid production (like proton pump inhibitors) and sometimes drugs to speed up the emptying of the stomach. If medication along with diet and lifestyle changes are ineffective, surgery may be necessary to tighten the lower oesophageal sphincter.
Some of the common alternative remedies used for acid reflux includes:
- Peppermint (herbal)
- Ginger (herbal)
- Slippery elm (herbal)
- Chamomile (herbal)
- Nux vomica (homeopathic)
- Lycopodium (homeopathic)
- Nat phos tissue salts
Using these remedies on your own without professional supervision may be ineffective and can be contraindicated if you are using certain medication. Always consult with a registered homeopath who will prescribe specific homeopathic and herbal medicines for your condition. An in-depth case history and thorough clinical examination is necessary and your homeopath will be able to advise you on the appropriate diet and lifestyle measures.