Signs, symptoms and causes of acid reflux

Acid reflux is often associated with heartburn, but if you experience heartburn more than twice a week, you're actually suffering from acid reflux disease, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). WebMD explains that GERD is caused when acid moves up into your esophagus — oftentimes because the lower esophageal sphincter (the muscle at the bottom of your esophagus) doesn't close properly — causing a burning sensation.
GERD affects about 20 percent of the U.S. population, according to eMedicineHealth, leaving many people suffering from this painful condition. While occasional heartburn is normal, if you experience it often, you could have GERD or another condition, and it's extremely important to talk to your doctor to get your body back on track.
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Causes
WebMD explains that one common cause of acid reflux disease is a stomach abnormality called a hiatal hernia. This type of hernia is caused when the upper part of your stomach — the lower esophageal sphincter, which normally keeps acid out of your throat — lets acid in and causes a burning sensation. But GERD can also be caused by:
- Eating large meals 
- Lying down after eating or bending over at the waist
- Being overweight or obese
- Eating right before going to sleep
- Consuming foods such as citrus, tomato, chocolate, mint, garlic, onions or spicy or fatty foods
- Drinking alcohol, carbonated drinks, coffee or tea
- Smoking
- Being pregnant
- Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, muscle relaxers or blood pressure medications
Symptoms
The most common symptoms of GERD, according to WebMD, are heartburn and regurgitation. Heartburn is that burning, uncomfortable feeling that moves from your stomach to your abdomen or chest, and even up to your throat. Regurgitation is a bitter or sour-tasting acid that moves up into your throat or mouth. Neither are pleasant, but both are possibly indicative of GERD if they're experienced often. 
If you have acid reflux disease, you might also experience:
- Bloating
- Bloody or black stools
- Bloody vomiting
- Burping
- Dysphagia — a narrowing of your esophagus, which feels like food is stuck in your throat
- Hiccups that you can't get rid of
- Nausea
- Unexplainable weight loss 
- Wheezing, dry cough, hoarseness or constant sore throat
Treatment
If you experience these symptoms more than twice a week, or they start to interfere with your life or sleep, eMedicineHealth says it's important to see your doctor. 
Many times, and under your doctor's supervision, you can treat acid reflux by:
- Not lying down, sleeping or bending over right after a meal
- Elevating your head when sleeping
- Eating at least two to three hours before bed
- Sleeping in a chair for daytime naps
- Losing weight if you're overweight
- Avoiding tight belts
- Quitting smoking
- Avoiding possible trigger foods like spicy foods, onions, citrus products, tomato products like pasta sauce or ketchup, fatty or fried foods, peppermint, chocolate, alcohol, carbonated beverages and coffee or other caffeinated beverages
- Avoiding large or fatty meals
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Your doctor might also instruct you to start taking certain over-the-counter drugs to help combat your GERD, or you might be prescribed medication to prevent the reflux or even reduce stomach acid. It's important to discuss all of your lifestyle habits and symptoms with your doctor so she can determine which treatment is right for you.
Resources WebMD and eMedicineHealth
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