Acid reflux disease or heartburn are the commonly known expressions of gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is the flowing back of the acidic juices from the stomach up into the esophagus. (Esophagus anatomy: esophagus is a tube connecting the throat and the stomach.) The lining of the esophagus does not have adequate defence against the harmful effects of the acid contents of the stomach, which causes injury of the esophagus, like inflammation, sometimes even ulceration, and a burning pain known as heartburn. In most cases the flowing back stomach material remains in the lower part of the esophagus, resulting in heartburn and/or nausea. (See stomach anatomy) Many of us may experience minor acid reflux especially after a large and heavy meal or certain drinks.
Discomfort or burning pain in the upper abdomen and/or lower chest area, often behind the breastbone caused by gastric acid reflux. Heartburn pain originates from the lower part of the esophagus according to stomach anatomy. The acid reflux pain might be so serious, that severe heartburn can be mixed up with angina or even heart attack. Read more about symptoms of acid reflux….
Main cause of heartburn is the chronic irritation by the acid gastric contents, which regurgitate into the lower part of the esophagus. (See stomach anatomy) Here, the lining has no protection from the burning effect of stomach acid. By contrast the stomach lining is covered with a thick protective layer of mucus, so acid never reaches the delicate walls of the stomach lining.
Sometimes, the refluxed stomach material flows back up all the way into the mouth causing burning sensation in the throat and acidic taste in the mouth.
The stomach contents are prevented from entering the esophagus by a double-action valve mechanism. The lower end of the esophagus has a muscular ring, known as the lower esophagus sphincter (LES), which forms one part of the valve mechanism. The other part consists of the hiatus, a narrow opening in the diaphragm muscle. The combination of these two muscular gateways provides an effective one-way valve. (See stomach anatomy)
The most common cause of acid reflux is the incompetence of the lower esophageal sphincter. (See esophagus anatomy)
Gastric acid reflux may develop as a result of several factors acting together to weaken the esophageal sphincter muscle and to make the valve leak. These factors include,
Many people develop mild heartburn in association with certain lifestyle factors, such as:
Severe acid reflux, which persists over many year can damage the delicate esophagus tissues, causing erosive esophagitis and scarring in the esophagus. It might eventually be severe enough to cause esophageal stricture (narrowing or partly obstruction of the esophagus). A stricture can make swallowing very difficult and extremely painful.
Chronic acid reflux may lead to the esophageal lining replacing the stomach lining, increasing the risk of developing esophageal cancer. The long term irritation by acidic material causes changes in the cells lining at the lower end of the esophagus (Barrett’s esophagus), leading to a serious form of cancer.
The chances of getting cancer of the esophagus is eight times higher in people who have chronic heartburn and it is increasing faster than almost any other cancer.
So take your acid reflux or heartburn seriously!
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