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Acid reflux and its treatments have been in the headlines lately. Learn more about this common disorder, what causes it, and what you can do if you have it. Be sure to go see your doctor, too.

What Is It?

Acid reflux is the common term for gastroesophageal reflux disease, also known as GERD and gastric reflux. At the base of the esophagus, where it connects to the stomach, we all have a barrier that prevents acid from the stomach from backwashing into the esophagus. Some people have a good barrier that keeps out all the acid, while others have a barrier that lets acid in. When digestive acid passes from the stomach to the esophagus, acid reflux occurs.

Symptoms Of GERD

The main symptom of acid reflux is burning, painful, persistent heartburn. Some patients also experience difficulty swallowing; others have chest pain and esophageal inflammation with GERD. Every episode of heartburn is not acid reflux; however, patients who experience heartburn more than once a week are considered to be high risk for developing GERD.

Other symptoms of gastric reflux may include a persistent cough, hoarseness and other changes of the voice, chronic ear aches, burning chest paints, nausea, or sinusitis. GERD sufferers may have one or more of these symptoms.

Foods That May Cause GERD

Some foods and food-related behaviors are thought to contribute to gastric reflux and its symptoms. Problematic foods for acid reflux sufferers include coffee, alcohol, foods high in fat, carbonated soft drinks, chocolate, peppermint, oranges, tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables, milk, and dairy products.

Eating behaviors that exacerbate GERD are eating within two or three hours of bedtime and eating excessively large meals.

Changing Positions To Relieve Symptoms

The symptoms of GERD are sensitive to positioning, and many reflux sufferers find that changing positions while they sleep can relieve the symptoms of the disease. For instance, nighttime episodes of acid reflux have been reported to be drastically reduced when patients sleep on their left side. Other patients report a reduction in overnight symptoms by sleeping with the head in an elevated position. Head elevation can be accomplished with wedges, risers, or a bed wedge pillow, with a minimum incline of 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) and an even higher degree of incline for greater relief.

Posture also plays a key role in inhibiting acid reflux. Slouching posture restricts the path between the stomach and the esophagus, causing the esophageal muscles to spasm, blocking gas and acid.

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