How Does Acid Reflux Impact the Digestive System?

We all eat, so it is understandable that occasionally most of us will experience a little heartburn, or indigestion. The occasional bout with heartburn or indigestion can sometimes be determined to be something a little bit more, like acid reflux disease. As a part of the digestive system, our esophagus is designed to close off, so that food and liquids will remain in the stomach once they get there.

Sometimes the muscle, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), relaxes or does not function properly, and then stomach contents and/or acids can escape and splash up back into the esophagus. Worse yet, it can go all the way back up into the throat or mouth, or into our airways in the lungs. When this occurs problems with the digestion process can happen and we can become ill or have difficulty swallowing. It can even develop into something serious like esophageal cancer or Barrett’s Esophagus.

Acid reflux disease is also called, gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD for short. There are generally three reasons why a person may experience this back-up of stomach contents or acid and they include the esophagus being overwhelmed by the quantity of stomach content and acid, the stomach’s contents are too acidic, or the food has not cleared the esophagus fast enough. These three things can happen singly or they can be combined.

What is Heartburn?

When fluid from the stomach backs-up and reaches the mouth, we call that acid indigestion and we tend to burp and feel this burning at the back of our throat and possibly taste acid or stomach contents in our mouth. As the stomach contents and acid flow back up the esophagus it can create a burning sensation, which we call heartburn. If you experience either of these two situations more than twice a week you may have acid reflux or even a more serious problem. You should see your doctor to be evaluated and diagnosed.

Individuals that have acid reflux and fail to treat it can end up with serious problems such as erosive esophagitis, which is a condition in which inflamed tissue, swelling and irritation occurs in the esophagus. Tissue scars from acid reflux damage may also narrow the esophagus and make swallowing difficult, leading to weight loss.

Typically half of all those who experience acid reflux end up with non-erosive type of acid reflux and it can be called, “nonerosive reflux disease (NERD). These individuals will have the normal symptoms of acid reflux but do not show any physical signs of esophageal injury, they are the lucky ones.

Refractory GERD

Then, there are the individuals who have symptoms of acid reflux and despite taking medications (either prescription or over-the-counter) they continue to have the symptoms of acid reflux. This type of reflux is called, “refractory gastroesophageal reflux disease (Refractory GERD). These individuals usually need to have a more aggressive treatment plan or they need to be monitored and re-evaluated for other possible causes of their acid reflux symptoms.