Acid reflux happens to everyone, even healthy people, but the discomfort and harmful effects of recurrent reflux have a significant impact on about 50% of the adult population in the United States. Why some and not others? The answer is simple. Most of the time the Lower Esophageal Sphincter a tight ring of muscle at the far end of the esophagus creates a barrier guarding against the stomach’s contents refluxing up into the esophagus.
In people with GERD (Gastro Esophageal Reflux Disease) the Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) may be weak. Saliva contains neutralizing bicarbonate for diluting stomach acid as it pushes refluxed esophageal contents back into the stomach. For those suffering from GERD the contractions may be too weak to force the liquid back into the stomach resulting in frequent or prolonged heartburn. Many people rush to the emergency room mistaking this painful condition as a heart attack.
Taking an over-the-counter medication such as Omeprazole (found in Prilosec) or Ranitidine (found in Zantac) can give some relief but are not intended as a long term solution. These products are designed for a short-term relief, generally two weeks, at which time you should consult a physical if your symptoms continue or get worse.
As with all digestive disorders, I suggest long-term life style changes to prevent recurrent reflux and allow the LES to relax and regain some of its elasticity. Try eating frequent small meals throughout the day, limit liquid intake with meals, and stop eating at least one hour before going to bed. Ingesting large quantities of food or drink at one setting can cause slow stomach emptying and result in stomach distention. Increased abdominal pressure can cause the weakened LES to open more easily leading to frequent reflux.