Just what is Acid Reflux disease?
If you’re someone that suffers from this disease, you may think that you already have a good handle on the answer to that question. The pain and discomfort that you feel so often may even be enough of an answer for you. You might have even done some research on your own and have come up with some home remedies, some of which may or may not have been successful.
When you do research this disease, however, it’s surprising the things that even the patients don’t know about it – and sometimes it’s because doctors fail to fully inform their patients of all these details! A lot of information about what the disease actually is, where in the body it occurs, what causes it, and most importantly the dangers of the disease is typically missing from a patient’s knowledge base.
And if you’re someone with a case of acid reflux, no matter how infrequent or minor it is, you would do well to find out more details about this condition. If you’re not fully informed of what exactly it is and what causes it, you may be treating it incorrectly and possibly even making the condition worse than it is. If ignored or left unchecked, this disease can actually lead to many other conditions that are very dangerous for your health overall, and may even prove to be fatal.
What Acid Reflux Disease Is
One thing that many people are not clearly told is what exactly this disease is and where it occurs in the body. Many think that because they feel a lot of heartburn and pain and pressure in the chest area that this disease affects the heart or chest.
Some also understand that acid reflux disease is a digestive disorder and that the pain you’re feeling actually happens in the esophagus, the long tube that moves food from your mouth to your stomach.
In truth, neither of these is correct. Acid reflux disease is a problem in the stomach. While you actually feel the pain in your esophagus, it is not the esophagus itself that is damaged or malfunctioning.
When you eat and food is sent to your stomach, you produce a form of hydrochloric acid that helps to break down that food so that it can be absorbed in your body and digested. There is a small valve at the top of your stomach pouch, at the end of your esophagus, that opens when the food moves down your esophagus and then closes when the food gets into your stomach. Once the food enters your stomach, this valve is supposed to close in order to keep the contents of your stomach including that acid from backing up into your esophagus.
Unfortunately, that valve can be defective or faulty or sometimes can be overwhelmed with acid so that it washes up past the valve and back into the esophagus even when it’s working properly.
When this happens, you experience the pain and discomfort that we call heartburn. This happens because your stomach has a special lining so that the stomach acids won’t bother it, but your esophagus doesn’t have this lining. When those stomach acids “leak” out of where they belong and come into contact with your esophagus it causes pain and pressure. Imagine if you had acid dripped on your skin – of course it would hurt!
Almost everyone experiences occasional heartburn; this can be caused by a very heavy meal which overloads the stomach and causes those acids to wash back up into the esophagus, or from eating a lot of spicy foods which trigger more acid production in the stomach. However, when it happens on a regular basis or is caused not by dietary habits but because of a defect in that valve then this is called acid reflux disease.
So while you feel the pain of acid reflux in your esophagus, it’s not really a condition of your esophagus at all. It’s because of a defect in your stomach or because of poor dietary choices.
How Dangerous Is Acid Reflux
Acid reflux is a painful and downright annoying disease, there’s no doubt about that. It’s especially frustrating when you try remedy after remedy and still have bouts or attacks and can rarely enjoy a meal without wondering if your acid reflux will flare up.
But acid reflux is not just uncomfortable, it’s downright dangerous. There are many serious conditions it can lead to, and many other parts of the body that it can affect.
When the acid from your stomach washes back up into your esophagus, it can actually reach all the way into your mouth. This means that many parts of your digestive system up and along your esophagus and in your mouth can also be harmed, just as your esophagus is.
And the damage done to your esophagus itself from this consistent exposure to acid is very dangerous in of itself.
Consider for a moment the many dangers there are with chronic acid reflux disease, if it’s left unchecked.
Erosion of tooth enamel and the gum line
The acids that are regurgitated from the stomach can reach all the way into the mouth and wear away at the enamel on the teeth, and along the gum line.
This wearing away of the enamel is a very serious dental concern. Once enamel is worn away there is very little that a dentist can do to fix this problem. Without their protective enamel, teeth are more prone to breaking and actual loss.
This is true when the gum line is worn away as well. You can suffer tooth loss when this area of the mouth is compromised.
Dental studies show that some 2%-18% of people have a form of enamel wear, but for those who have acid reflux disease, this number increases from 20%-55%. So obviously there is a connection between enamel erosion and acid reflux.
Halitosis and bitter taste
You might not think of chronic bad breath as being a serious health problem, and in the grand scheme of things it probably isn’t. But the bottom line is that this acid regurgitating all the way to your mouth is also going to cause bad breath and this is embarrassing and inconvenient.
And because this halitosis is being caused by the acids washing up from your stomach and not from plaque or food particles on your teeth, typically brushing and flossing won’t be enough to fix the problem.
Using mouthwashes and mouth rinses can help the situation some, but even their effectiveness is limited.
The bitter taste that someone with acid reflux experiences is also not the most crucial health problem one can face, but it is still very uncomfortable and downright annoying.
These problems can also give a person problems in social situations and romantic occasions. If there’s not much you can do about your acrid breath, it can be difficult to carry on conversations or kiss someone. This can cause a person to be very self-conscious and embarrassed.
Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses which may result in congestion and irritation, and difficulty breathing. Acid reflux has been linked to sinusitis because while the stomach acid does not reach the sinuses, it can get as high as the pharynx, the opening leading from the nose and mouth to the esophagus.
This can cause inflammation and irritation along the mucus membranes and sinus passages.
Studies have shown that those who have acid reflux typically have higher incidences of sinusitis.
Sinusitis may not be the worst health concern a person can have, but not being able to breathe freely is very irritating and can interfere with one’s physical activity level. If you have difficulty breathing you’re less likely to be physically active, and this can lead to gain and serious problems from that.
Also, when the sinuses are consistently inflamed and irritated this can cause scarring and permanent problems with the sinuses. You can actually develop long-term breathing problems from chronic sinusitis.
There isn’t always much that one can do to fix sinusitis that is caused from acid reflux. Most sinus pills and other remedies just don’t do much to fix or correct the problem, and constantly taking pills or other remedies can irritate the stomach as well.
Laryngitis is the inflammation of the vocal chords that can a person’s voice to sound raspy and hoarse.
The vocal chords are located in the top of the trachea, which is at the end of the esophagus. When you have acid reflux and the acid reaches the top of the esophagus, this can irritate the vocal chords and cause laryngitis. When you have chronic laryngitis, you can actually damage your vocal chords permanently.
The condition of laryngitis, especially when it is chronic, can interfere with many activities. Imagine trying to be on the phone all day or performing sales calls if you have no voice or if it’s raspy and irritated.
And if you do have a job that requires you to talk all day, this can just make the situation much worse.
When you have laryngitis due to acid reflux, there isn’t always much you can do to treat this. Some cough syrups can help to coat and soothe your throat as can cough drops, honey, or hot tea. But usually these are just temporary solutions and don’t do much to alleviate the problem.
Chronic laryngitis is very serious and if it’s being caused by acid reflux, the only thing you can do is correct the acid reflux. Temporary fixes won’t do much to protect your vocal chords and alleviate the pain you might feel.
Acid reflux can cause scar tissue to build up in the esophagus which makes the passageway for food and liquid smaller. These build-ups are known as strictures.
Strictures can make it for difficult to eat and drink, and even prevent food from reaching the stomach. Many who have acid reflux report that their eating and drinking is much more difficult and even downright painful. They are often very aware of the food moving through their esophagus and often feel as if they are choking or being suffocated.
Strictures make it very difficult for one to enjoy a meal and can seriously impact one’s social life, even your career if it involves having meals with customers or coworkers. Often when one has strictures, they need to stop eating in the middle of a meal and are almost frozen with pain.
Sometimes, if they don’t understand that they have strictures, they can actually panic and think that they are choking. When your social life is so impacted, this can be a very difficult for you to endure. While some may dismiss this as being insignificant it can actually be very difficult for the patient and his or her family.
And of course no one should have to deal with this type of pain every time he or she eats. If the pain becomes too unbearable, he or she may neglect proper eating habits and opt for soft foods or skip meals altogether. This means that they may be depriving themselves of necessary nutrients, vitamins, minerals, protein, and amino acids. This can lead to blood sugar problems, problems, and a host of other problems as well.
Esophagitis is a term that refers to all sorts of damage that happens to the esophagus. Repeated contact with the esophagus by stomach acids can cause swelling, bleeding, and ulcers.
When you have esophagitis, this can cause severe pain even when you are not having bouts of acid reflux. The swelling can often feel like a heart attack and extreme pressure in the area of the chest that is very painful. It can be difficult to move in any direction when this happens, as any pressure on the midsection just irritates this pain.
Bleeding and ulcers of the esophagus are also very dangerous. This blood can leak back into your stomach and cause sickness. Ulcers of course are very painful even when you’re not eating or drinking.
There usually isn’t much that one can do about esophagitis that is caused by acid reflux disease. Antacids don’t typically work on a condition this serious.
So it’s certainly bad enough that one would have this type of pain but when there is so little that you can do about it, it can be even worse.
Repeated exposure of the esophagus to acid reflux can cause a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus, in which the cells in the esophagus actually change and can potentially turn into cancerous cells.
Barrett’s esophagus afflicts some 700,000 adults in the U.S., but unfortunately many don’t even know that they have this disease. The exact cause of the disease is not known, and while persons who do not have acid reflux disease can contract Barrett’s esophagus, there are about five times more people with acid reflux that develop Barrett’s than those who don’t.
Rarely do children develop Barrett’s esophagus, and the average age of diagnosis is 60. However, because Barrett’s esophagus does not always present itself with certain symptoms, it can be difficult to know when the condition actually started.
Barrett’s esophagus is a very dangerous disease if the changing of the cells along the esophagus actually turn into cancerous cells, which they may very well do.
As many as .5% of people with Barrett’s esophagus develop cancer, and the risk of developing cancer of the esophagus is some 125 times higher for those who have Barrett’s than those who don’t. Cancer of the esophagus is very difficult to treat and can cause other digestive disorders even when it is successfully treated. Usually it is diagnosed so late in its progression that there is often little that doctors can do to treat this disease.
Many doctors report that both Barrett’s esophagus and cancer of the esophagus is increasing, especially in white men. They typically attribute this to the rise in cases of acid reflux disease, usually because of poor diet choices. These dietary choices also typically lead to obesity and problems as well.
While it’s not to say that anyone with acid reflux disease is going to get cancer, there certainly is a connection between the two. This is probably one of the worst things that doctors don’t tell their patients – that if left unchecked, this condition can lead to something as serious as cancer of the esophagus, for which there are very few treatment options.
Trying to Cure Acid Reflux
You may or may not have known the truth about all these problems that acid reflux can cause when left unchecked.
Another very surprising fact that most sufferers of acid reflux don’t understand is how to go about curing or treating this disease. Many people use home remedies or over-the-counter remedies – and then wonder why they are not getting any relief.
What is also surprising is that the consistent use of antacids and other such remedies may actually be doing more harm than good. How so?
How antacids work
Antacids work by raising the pH of stomach acids, which neutralizes the acidic content of stomach and digestive juices. Antacids typically contain aluminum hydroxide, sodium, calcium, magnesium hydroxide, carbonate, or any combination of these elements, all of which work as acid neutralizers but all of which can be very harsh and damaging to the stomach.
Reducing stomach acid
There are some consequences to reducing stomach acid on a long-term basis. You may develop impaired ability to absorb certain nutrients, including vitamin B and iron.
Stomach acid also helps to reduce the proliferation of certain hazardous organisms in the system such as bacteria. When you reduce stomach acids on a long-term basis, the body’s immune system can be compromised and sometimes seriously.
Interfering with the body’s digestive process can also interfere with your bowel health. Many who use antacids for longer periods of time report problems with elimination, from constipation to gas, extended belly, cramps, pain in the stomach, diarrhea, and many other such problems.
Antacids also typically cause dehydration as they require a lot of moisture to be absorbed into the system. This pulls moisture from other areas of the body. Many who use antacids repeatedly and consistently report being very dehydrated and have cases of dry mouth, dry skin, and stomach cramps that come with being dehydrated.
When you reduce the stomach acids in such an unnatural way, the stomach may actually produce more acid in response. This is called acid rebound and is not uncommon in those who take antacids for long periods of time.
This is one of the main reasons why people who use antacids repeatedly and consistently often report a lack of relief from their use. They are temporarily neutralizing the acid in their stomach at the moment, but causing their stomach to react in such a way that it produces more acid over the long-term.
Because antacids are actually unnatural chemicals that you are introducing into your body, there are actually some dangers to long-term use with them:
- Aluminum hydroxide may accumulate in the system and lead to renal insufficiency (kidney disease). Excessive use of this ingredient may lead to chronic constipation.
- Magnesium hydroxide may cause chronic diarrhea and renal failure and cardiovascular problems.
- Carbonate can cause kidney stones and carbon dioxide gas, which is poisonous to the system and can cause gastric distension.
- Calcium content may cause kidney stones and constipation.
- Sodium may cause hypertension, heart failure, and kidney failure. It is not recommended for those who need to reduce salt in their diet for reasons of cardiovascular health.
What Your Doctor Isn’t Telling You
People who are finally educated about acid reflux disease, its cause, its consequences and subsequent dangers, and the dangers of home remedies that so many people actually use, they can be very shocked.
And one big reason for them being so shocked is that doctors often just don’t educate their patients adequately. Rarely do they warn their patients of over-the-counter remedies and the damage they’re doing to their own systems. They often give their patients no information about what is really causing their disease so that the condition can be treated at its root source.
Acid reflux is a very serious condition, not just a painful one. And treating it with these home remedies or over-the-counter treatments is not only ineffective, it can just increase the danger of this disease.
There’s no explaining why doctors don’t educate their patients the way they do; of course some patients don’t want to learn and understand these things and just want a prescription to take the problem away.
But only by really learning about this disease and by understanding its root cause can you really treat it properly. If you realize the cause of the problem, then you can address that cause rather than just trying to fix the symptoms.