Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid, essential for digestion, moves back up into the esophagus. This reverse action can cause a wide range of symptoms, including gas, a bitter taste in the mouth, and heartburn. Some people develop more serious conditions over time, including damage to the esophagus and even cancer. In most cases, the symptoms of acid reflux are easy to treat.
Obesity is one of the leading causes of acid reflux. Improper functioning of the esophagus causes gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Excessive food intake and a higher percentage of body fat may prevent the lower esophageal sphincter from closing properly, which allows acid to back up out of the stomach and into the esophagus.
A hiatal hernia occurs when the top of the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm, a flexible muscle that separates the abdomen and the chest. The diaphragm controls breathing and stops acid from entering the esophagus, but when a hiatal hernia develops, an individual is at a greater risk of GERD-related discomfort. A hiatal hernia may develop over time, though some people are born with one. When developed in adulthood, they are usually the result of excessive straining or age-related changes to the diaphragm. Chronic coughing, pregnancy, obesity, constipation, straining excessively during bowel movements, lifting heavy weights or other objects, and physical injury can all lead to a hiatal hernia. Small hiatal hernias are common and may cause no symptoms at all. Larger ones are more likely to cause acid reflux and other symptoms.
Smoking often contributes to acid reflux. It damages mucous membranes, causing various issues within the digestive tract. Additionally, the habit impairs the function of the lower esophageal sphincter, increases the production of stomach acid, reduces the production of saliva to neutralize the acid, and slows the esophageal muscle reflex. These factors, combined with decreased production of acid-reducing saliva, can lead to acid reflux.
While alcoholic beverages are not particularly acidic, they do cause the bottom of the esophagus to relax, contributing to involuntary regurgitation even after the effects of the drink have worn off. Some drink additions, such as orange juice, can also cause acidic damage to the protective barriers of the stomach and the esophagus, amplifying the problem.
Chocolate is an acid reflux offender for some people. It contains a variety of acid-promoting components, including caffeine and theobromine. Milk chocolate has a greater tendency to cause these painful and disruptive symptoms. The fat in chocolate can also worsen acid reflux, and milk chocolate contains more fat than dark chocolate.
Coffee contains high amounts of acid, and people who consume it frequently risk irritating the digestive tract. The popular beverage also contains caffeine, which is known to cause the diaphragm and lower esophageal sphincter to relax, allowing acid to back up out of the stomach and into the esophagus.
Excessive consumption of black tea can lead to acid reflux. Like coffee, the caffeine in tea causes the diaphragm and lower esophageal sphincter to relax, impacting their functionality. People who experience a resurgence of acid reflux symptoms after drinking tea may want to consider switching to varieties that contain less caffeine and fewer tannins, such as herbal or green teas.
Soft drinks are highly acidic and may cause acid reflux symptoms. They contain numerous chemicals that essentially explode upon digestion and can cause the stomach to expand uncomfortably. Because many soft drinks contain caffeine, it is not surprising this beverage can exacerbate acid reflux issues.
Regularly consuming fried foods increases the likelihood of experiencing acid reflux. Fried foods contain fats that slow the movement of food out of the stomach and into the intestines. When food remains in the stomach too long, it can trigger acid reflux. Also, fatty foods reduce pressure in the lower esophageal sphincter, letting acid escape more easily from the stomach back into the esophagus.
Wearing clothing that is too constricting can compact the organs in an unnatural way, placing excessive pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter muscles, stomach, and diaphragm. This compression prevents the proper function of these organs, potentially causing the backup of stomach acid into the esophagus.