Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is just another term for gastroesophageal reflux or GERD.

  • The stomach juice that refluxes contains many chemicals of which acid is only one
  • Drugs that are used to treat GERD decrease or remove acid from the juices that are refluxing, but the reflux continues

Cause of Acid Reflux
Acid reflux describes the situation when stomach juice moves upward into the esophagus (swallowing tube) due to a malfunction of the special “valve” (LES) that separates the two structures. Stomach juice is composed of a wide array of chemicals including bile, enzymes and acid. The term acid reflux is used because of all the chemicals in the stomach juices that reflux, it is the acid that causes irritation of the esophagus.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux
The symptoms of acid reflux are divided into two categories; typical and atypical. The typical symptoms are heartburn, regurgitation and trouble swallowing. Atypical symptoms include, cough, hoarseness, sore throat, dental disease, worsening asthma and even bad breath. The typical symptoms tend to respond well to treatment for acid reflux, while the atypical symptoms are much more difficult to deal with.

Treatment of Acid Reflux
Treatment for acid reflux focuses on the acid itself, and not typically the reflux. When reflux occurs due to the damaged valve, removing the acid from the refluxing stomach juices improves the symptoms. This is done using acid reducing medications. These medicines include Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) including Prilosec, Nexium, Prevacid, and Dexilant. Less potent H2 blockers include Zantac and Tagamet. Topical antacids such as Mylanta and Tums also help. These medications are usually required for life.   There are some long-term side effects of these medications that can be problematic. These are thought to include an increased chance of hip fractures, low magnesium levels, increase in certain types of pneumonias and greater risk of development of a serious colon infection.

Also of note is that lifestyle changes can help treat acid reflux. These include elevating the head of the bed, not eating before bedtime, losing weight and avoiding certain foods that tend to trigger reflux. These foods vary from person to person.

For some patients, eliminating the reflux rather than reducing acid symptoms is a preferable option. There are several minimally invasive surgical procedures that restore function of the damaged LES which reduces or eliminates the reflux. The acid stays in the stomach where it belongs.

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Contact a nurse coordinator

Crosby: Lea carlson, RN
Aitkin: Dawn Harcey, RN