Acid reflux is a condition characterized by stomach acid traveling up into the esophagus.
This condition is considered very common but the exact prevalence is debatable because the rates vary by region. Additionally, some people experience acid reflux only occasionally while others experience it on a daily basis.
Acid reflux is not usually considered a severe problem but it can lead to more severe conditions if it occurs often enough.
What Are The Symptoms?
The most commonly reported symptom of acid reflux is heartburn. This symptom is characterized by pain or a burning sensation that can be described as being anywhere from the stomach up to the throat. Another common symptom is regurgitation, which is when the patient can feel and taste the stomach acid as it travels up to the mouth. Some patients also experience excessive hiccuping, especially around meal times. More mild symptoms include a chronic cough, sore throat, nausea, and unintended weight loss. However, if acid reflux occurs often enough without treatment, the symptoms can progress to more severe problems like ulcers or dysphagia.
What Causes It?
Generally, acid reflux occurs when the lower esophageal sphincter, a valve that separates the esophagus from the stomach, fails to close fully or opens too often. This can be caused by a number of different conditions or lifestyle habits. In fact, acid reflux is even a side effect of many commonly prescribed medications. Additionally, hiatal hernias can cause stomach acid to be moved up into the esophagus. Many pregnant women experience acid reflux as a result of the shifting of organs that occurs as the baby grows. Other risk factors include being overweight and smoking.
How Is It Diagnosed?
If the patient only experiences symptoms of acid reflux on an occasional basis, their physician may not perform any diagnostic tests. It is likely that these patients will get relief from over-the-counter antacids. However, if the patient experiences these symptoms on a regular basis, their physician will probably order a series of tests to rule out other potential conditions and confirm the diagnosis. The most common of the diagnostic tests used to diagnose acid reflux is the endoscopy. This procedure is usually performed with sedation to eliminate patient discomfort but it only takes a few minutes.
The physician will insert a tube with a light and camera down the patient’s throat in order to get a picture of the condition of the stomach and esophagus. During an endoscopy, the physician may take a biopsy or leave a device for pH monitoring. This device would be located in the esophagus and would be left for a few days in order to measure the amount of stomach acid present in the esophagus.
Another potential test they may use is called an esophageal manometry. The procedure is very similar to that of the endoscope, but the tube used specifically tests the functionality of the muscles of the esophagus and the lower esophageal sphincter. A Barium swallow test may also be used to confirm the presence of ulcers.