Acid Reflux Signs & Symptoms Should Never Be Ignored
Acid reflux affects literally millions of people every day, and most adults are familiar with the signs and symptoms of acid reflux. But these symptoms may also be signs of other conditions, which either cause or mimic acid reflux.Understanding which other conditions may be present, and which signs are likely to indicate you may have more than “common” acid reflux, is a key to getting the right diagnosis quickly.
The most common symptoms of acid reflux are burning and pain in the lower chest and abdomen area, which are caused by a backward flowing, or “reflux,” of stomach acid. Acid reflux occurs when the valve between the esophagus and stomach, called the esophageal sphincter, malfunctions, either due to pressure from the stomach contents or weakness in the sphincter itself, which may be a result of a congenital defect or may occur after repeated exposure to stomach acid. Stomach acid is mostly composed of hydrochloric acid – an extremely strong and caustic acid. Although the stomach lining is “designed” to tolerate this acid without damage occurring, the lining of the esophagus is made of different cells which are not immune to the burning and irritating effects of the acid. When acid refluxes, sufferers experience the telltale burning and pain of acid reflux.
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In some individuals, acid reflux can cause a diffuse and usually non-specific pain in the chest region. When acid is refluxed into the throat area, it can cause hoarseness, bad breath and sore throat, as well as wheezing and a persistent, dry cough.
Some relatively common conditions which may also involve these symptoms include peptic ulcers, hiatal hernias, Barrett’s esophagus, gallbladder disease, liver disease, heart disease, and tumors.
One of the key elements to understand is that while acid reflux symptoms usually respond to over-the-counter or prescription medications, such as antacids, H-2 acid blockers, or proton inhibitors, most of these other conditions do not. Peptic ulcers and gall bladder disease, for instance, often involve stomach pain which is not relieved by over-the-counter or prescription medications. In some conditions, these products may provide relief; but continued, chronic recurrence of acid reflux symptoms should be an indicator that additional tests are needed to rule out underlying medical conditions.
Here are some other alternative treatments for reflux.
Ulcers and Hernias
Peptic ulcers and hiatal hernias are two of the more common conditions which can cause acid reflux, both stemming from different causes and both requiring different treatments. A peptic ulcer is an ulcer, or lesion, that forms in the lining of the stomach. Since this lining is what protects the stomach from the burning effects of stomach acid, when an ulcer forms, the acid is able to irritate the underlying tissues, resulting in a frequent, sometimes continual, burning sensation in the stomach. Once thought to be the result of dietary choices, peptic ulcers are now known to occur as a result of colonization by bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori. Once your physicians diagnoses an ulcer, he or she will treat it with antibiotics to kill these bacteria and restore the stomach to its natural balance.
Hiatal hernias occur when a portion of the upper stomach near the lower esophageal sphincter is pushed through the diaphragm muscle. Many hiatal hernias do not produce symptoms, but those that do usually produce symptoms of acid reflux.
Both peptic ulcers and hiatal hernias can be diagnosed during a simple procedure called an endoscopy. ION this procedure, a thin, flexible tube is inserted in the esophagus, and lighted camera takes images of the lower esophagus and stomach, which can be seen by the physician during the exam. If a peptic ulcer is suspected, your physician will also take a small tissue sample, or biopsy, from the lining of the stomach to test for the presence of bacteria.
Endoscopy is also used to diagnose Barrett’s esophagus, a condition that occurs when the cells of the lower esophagus experience abnormal changes as a result of chronic exposure to stomach acid. Barrett’s esophagus may require surgery to correct, and is associated with a higher risk of esophageal cancer. Tumors may also be able to be imaged with an endoscopy.
Gallbladder, liver, and heart diseases can have some of the same symptoms of acid reflux. For this reason, if you have chronic acid reflux, you should see your doctor to determine if any of these underlying conditions are present.