It is right after finishing a big meal that you feel it: that tight, scorched sensation in your throat and chest. On some days your symptoms may be mild or even absent while at other times that raw, acidic taste and discomfort noticeably returns. You might have convinced yourself that a bit of pain in your chest, or some food coming back up are just unpleasant but common experiences that you can dismiss.
The bad news is that you may be suffering from acid reflux disease, in which case your symptoms may become aggravated and serious over time. The good news is that when you understand what is happening to you, you will become empowered and then be able to do something about it.
Acid reflux is defined as the regurgitant flow of gastric acid into the esophagus. With the acid comes a sharp, sour taste in the back of the mouth and throat, as well as a burning sensation in the chest. Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) are labels which are often confused as being interchangeable, even on Wikipedia, but in fact they are not identical. While acid reflux can be treated by diet and lifestyle changes, GERD is a much more serious and chronic form of acid reflux that usually worsens over time.
Although they are not the same, a simple case of acid reflux progresses into GERD if experienced frequently and no steps are taken to prevent it. While it is far from the end of the world to have sporadic symptoms, people with long-standing, chronic heartburn are at a greater risk for serious complications. Once it becomes chronic, you become open to a wide variety of further ailments that you certainly don’t want!
There are so many possible causes of nausea that your specific one may be hard to pinpoint. In some cases, nausea is the only immediate symptom of acid reflux. Gastric acid can weaken the ring of muscle that separates the esophagus from the stomach, preventing it from shutting tightly enough after food consumption. This causes a disruption in the digestive process. When you’ve seen a specialist and exhausted other root causes, it’s time to consider stomach acid as the culprit.
As we know, stomach acid is, well, acidic. Therefore it is a highly corrosive substance by its very nature. When this acid comes in contact with the teeth on a regular basis, it not only can, but will cause erosion on the tooth layers, loss of enamel, and eventually cavities and comprehensive tooth decay. Frequent reflux sufferers experience dry mouth, creating an environment in the mouth that makes it a particularly happy place for bacteria.
The corrosion from stomach acid doesn’t stop with teeth. When it finds its way past the protective stomach lining often enough it can eat away at the tissue in the esophagus. If you notice this typical symptom of the common cold and the flu regularly occurring after meals without the typical accompanying runny nose, clogged sinuses, sneezing etc., your issue might be caused by acidic traffic in the throat. Frequent and untreated acidic activity in the esophagus will lead to hoarseness and even recurrent laryngitis. When your throat pain becomes chronic, it is paramount that you have a discussion with your medical practitioner.
Barrett’s esophagus occurs when acid has worn and irritated the esophageal lining to the point where it closely resembles the inner small intestine. It only occurs in patients who have had very long-term acid reflux with persistent symptoms. This condition has been closely linked with a heightened risk of developing esophageal cancer, so if you have been diagnosed with Barrett’s, it is of the utmost importance that you get regular checkups with your doctor. Routine biopsies are often ordered for Barrett’s patients for preventative maintenance.
Narrowing of the esophagus
When a reflux sufferer decides to ignore symptoms and move on with their life, the untreated flow of acid will eventually produce scarring that grows and narrows the passage in the esophagus. This reduction of space leads to difficulty swallowing, esophageal spasms and sharp chest pains. If you have reached this stage, you’ll be pleased to find that there is a bright side. The narrowed esophagus also restricts acid flow, providing relief from your reflux symptoms!
Children can get it too!
Although severe acid reflux and GERD are more common in older people, it can strike anyone in any age group. Infants with acid reflux complications often fail to feed properly, and not getting the proper amount of nutrients at that age can lead to stunted physical and neurological growth. When the acid infiltrates the infant’s airways, they are at risk of developing recurring, tenacious cases of pneumonia.
Acid reflux and its older brother GERD are often perceived as mere nuisances. However, if you find yourself popping antacids like Reese’s Pieces or swigging thick pink liquid as if it were soda pop, you might be in line for a serious health hazard. The messages and signals your body sends you may at times be cryptic, but it is extremely important that you heed those messages rather than muting them with over the counter cover-ups. Doing so may very well save your life!