Woman Clutching StomachIf you have experienced the pain of heartburn, the unpleasantness of acid regurgitation, and stomach discomfort or dyspepsia,  you might be one of 60 million Americans who battle acid reflux often.

Also referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, acid reflux has seen a dramatic uptick of 50% within industrialized nations over the past 10 years. Women seem to manifest the symptoms more than men.

Fortunately, in most cases acid reflux can be treated and controlled without too much trouble. It is important to take preventative and curative measures against acid reflux, not only to avoid the unpleasant symptoms but also because acid reflux increases the chances of esophageal cancer.

What is acid reflux disease?

With a Medieval Latin root, the word reflux comes from refluxus meaning “to flow back or recede.” Acid reflux occurs when stomach contents, including food, acidic digestive juices, and enzymes, flow upwards to escape into the gullet or esophagus, which is a tube connecting the stomach and the pharynx. This causes irritation of the esophagus and the mouth.

This back flow commonly occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) that lies at the juncture of the stomach and the esophagus does not work properly, and allows stomach contents to seep upwards.

What are the symptoms of acid reflux disease?

Acid reflux is most commonly seen after eating a heavy meal, during pregnancy, while bending over or lifting an object, as well as while lying on your back. Some of the common symptoms include a burning sensation called heartburn, regurgitation, an inflamed esophagus, asthma, and dyspepsia.

Acid indigestion or heartburn is a burning discomfort that is felt in the stomach to the mid-chest. It can also be felt in your throat. This can cause damage to your esophagus, leading to bleeding and hoarseness.

Regurgitation is the feel of acid pushing up to your throat and mouth. It produces a sour or very bitter taste in your mouth. You might experience severe nausea or vomiting.

Another common symptom is dyspepsia or stomach discomfort. This is manifested as burping, post-meal nausea, stomach bloating, and upper abdominal discomfort.

You could also experience dysphagia, a sensation of food stuck in your throat or the inability to swallow effectively.

The back flow of acidic juices is also known to impact your teeth by causing dental erosion.

How can you prevent acid reflux?

You can prevent and control acid reflux through a combination of dietary and lifestyle changes, and with some easily available over-the-counter medication.

The most important thing to tackle acid reflux is to consume mostly protein meals with low fat content. Eat frequent but small meals.

Avoid certain beverages that are known to trigger reflux. These include caffeinated drinks, carbonated beverages and alcohol.

It will also help your reflex if you avoid certain foods like citrus fruits, chocolate, tomatoes and tomato-based products, mint, onions, spicy and fried foods, hot spices, and garlic, since they trigger acid reflux symptoms.

Besides your diet, you must make some lifestyle changes to reduce the incidence of acid reflux. If you are a smoker, you should try to quit smoking or at least reduce the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Smoking is known to increase your risk for reflux as well as a range of other life-threatening diseases.

Nighttime reflux is likely to be very painful. So take some steps such as keeping your head raised using pillows and eating your last meal of the day at least two hours before sleeping, to keep your stomach contents down.

Reduce your weight through diet and exercise since heavier individuals experience more acid reflux.

Don’t wear very tight clothes since pressure on your belly might increase acid reflux.

Patients suffering from acid reflux might seek relief by using certain medications that help neutralize stomach acids and enzymes. Over-the-counter medicines such as antacids are meant to provide quick, though short-lasting, relief to acid reflux sufferers. However, you need to stick to recommended doses since overuse can cause diarrhea or, conversely, constipation.

Another important medication group called H2 blockers help stem the production of acids. Some of the common brands are Axid AR, Pepcid AC, and Zantac 75. You can get them in over-the-counter and prescription doses.

If you have frequent heartburn, occurring more than twice a week, you might seek relief using proton pump inhibitors. As the name indicates, they help inhibit heartburn. Some common brands of this medication group include Prevacid 24HR, Prilosec OTC, and Zegerid OTC.

Most of these medications should not be taken for more than two weeks continuously. If you continue to suffer from acid reflux frequently after taking two weeks of medications, you should consult your doctor. It is important to get acid reflux under control since it increases the incidence of esophageal cancer.

While talking to your doctor, make sure you mention all other medications that you are taking since some medicines such as aspirin, ibuprofen, muscle relaxants, and some blood pressure prescriptions increase the chances of getting acid reflux.