Heartburn, also known as acid reflux, is just one of the many symptoms of acid reflux disease. It occurs when stomach liquid gets backed up too far into the esophageal sphincter, resulting in a burning sensation in the throat. You can experience acid reflux more than several times a week if you suffer from heartburn frequently. Sometimes the problem may be as simple as too much acidity. However, more serious conditions such as peptic ulcers can lead to more serious issues including Barrett’s Esophagus and Crohn’s Disease.
Acid reflux is typically caused by a weak lower esophageal lining. The lining that lines the inside of the oesophagus (mouth) is called the oesophageal sphincter. The sphincter functions as a pressure barrier, keeping unwanted substances from entering the oesophagus so they don’t damage the lining. Unfortunately, the sphincter can malfunction and develop problems if it isn’t maintained properly, sometimes resulting in gastric or oesophageal inflammation.
Another common cause of gerd is over-production of stomach acids. This is often caused by the improper functioning of the pancreas. Other possible causes include eating too much food, lying down after eating, or bending over quickly during the night.
Breathing exercises are often recommended for those suffering from GERD. These exercises help to relax the muscles of the chest and throat, which relax the lower esophageal lining. Simultaneously, taking frequent and regular breaths from the nose clears the airway and reduces excess stomach acid from circulating in the body. Regular exercise also helps to strengthen the muscles that support the body and keep it from bending, something that happens to a great deal as we grow older. These exercises not only strengthen the muscle tissue surrounding the stomach and chest, they also strengthen the muscles that help maintain the upper esophageal lining.
Long periods of time spent lying down may also contribute to GERD, especially if the person is sleeping on their back, as laying down can promote what is called “reflexive apnea”. Apnea is when the muscles in the throat relax without warning, a condition that is considered dangerous. In addition, excessive weight gain can put added pressure on the throat and neck, further contributing to GERD symptoms. If you spend three hours or more in bed each day, or if you are experiencing any of the other symptoms above, it’s time to see your doctor. While most cases of GERD can be controlled with lifestyle changes, there are those few that can’t. If these symptoms continue for three hours or more each day, it’s time to make an appointment with the doctor.
The first step to solving this common problem involves understanding what happens when the stomach pumps acid through the esophagus. The muscle at the base of the esophagus – the sphincter – remains tightly closed throughout the night while the person sleeps. However, the muscle does relax slightly – about half an inch – every night. That slight relaxation allows the gastric contents to move back into the stomach and fall into the small intestine where they are picked up and eventually refilled back into the body. Those three hours that the sphincter stays open are important minutes as they allow the stomach acids to reach the upper intestine before being absorbed.