What is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux -- we hear these words all the time. It seems like everyone has it -- or heartburn or GERD. You can't flip through a magazine or watch TV without seeing ads about medications for it.

So what exactly is it?

Probably everyone has experienced a little heartburn at some time. That burning feeling in your chest or maybe an acid taste in your mouth, we all know that feeling. With chronic acid reflux or GERD, that feeling is much more severe and much more frequent.

If you are more interested in what it feels like, go to the symptoms page.

This page is about what goes on inside of you when you experience reflux.

The word “reflux” means backflow – specifically in our case the backflow of stomach acid and other digestive juices back up into the esophagus and beyond, where it doesn’t belong.

This is what creates that burning feeling that you experience. It is the very powerful acid (which belongs in your stomach), getting into places where it is not meant to be. By the way, you can have acid reflux without the burning feeling.

The esophagus, throat, voice box and air passages to your lungs do not have the same protection against this acid as your stomach does. In short, the acid is doing real physical damage to these other parts of your body!

Acid Reflux Disease (A.R.D.), Heartburn or GERD?

Let’s be clear on a few terms before we go any farther :

  • Heartburn - is the term given to the actual burning feeling in your chest. You can experience this if you have A.R.D., however, occasional heartburn does not automatically mean you have A.R.D.. Everyone experiences occasional heartburn.
  • Acid Reflux Disease (A.R.D.)- is when the acidic digestive juices from the stomach are getting into the esophagus consistently over a long time. Damage is repeatedly being done so healing will not occur. This is much more serious than occasional heartburn.
  • GERD – gastro esophageal reflux disease - is basically the same as acid reflux disease.
  • Indigestion and Dyspepsia - is more like an upset stomach or discomfort or burning feeling in the upper abdomen, often along with nausea, bloating, belching and vomiting. Some people also call heartburn “indigestion”. Indigestion can be caused by other things, like a ulcer, but it can also be from acid reflux or GERD.

Any frequent symptoms like above, means you are having problems with your digestive system! 

Reflux in Action

When you swallow food, it travels from your mouth, down your esophagus and enters your stomach. At the very bottom of the esophagus, at the entrance to the stomach, is a guard. Think of it as a valve.

As food arrives at the bottom of the esophagus, this valve automatically opens to allow the food to pass into the stomach. After the food has gone into the stomach, this muscular valve closes again, sealing off the esophagus from the stomach.

This muscular valve is known as the LES. A properly functioning LES stays closed with enough pressure to prevent harmful stomach juices from getting into the esophagus.

So, with a properly functioning LES, does it really matter how much acid is in the stomach, as long as it stays there? This is the logical question you should be asking. According to the research I did, if the LES is working right, the real source of most upper digestive problems appears to be too little acid in the stomach and not too much!

That’s probably a shocker to you.

A Weakened L.E.S.

A big part of the problem when you have A.R.D. is that your LES has been weakened. It opens at times when it is not supposed to (like when food is in your stomach), and doesn’t remain closed with enough pressure to prevent stomach contents from pushing past when there is pressure and bloating lower down.

As acid gets on the LES and above it, the acid actually seems to further weaken the LES, so it’s a vicious cycle. As the LES gets weaker, more acid gets past, which makes it weaker still.

Food not being Digested Properly

The other factor with A.R.D. is a digestive system that is not functioning properly. For different reasons, your body is not efficiently breaking down and using the food you are eating.

Excessive pressure, pain, burping or a feeling of fullness long after you’ve eaten are some symptoms. Pressure builds up because instead of food being digested quickly and efficiently, it lays in the stomach or small intestine too long and begins to ferment.

Don’t forget, with a body temperature of 98 degrees it doesn’t take long for food to spoil. Put some food in a plastic container and lay it in the sun on a Summers day and see how quickly it will spoil!

Important Things to Learn Here

  • Heartburn is a “symptom” of acid reflux, it’s not the “problem” (it’s actually a warning your body is giving you to tell you something is not right).
  • Acid Reflux is digestive juices getting to places they aren't supposed to be and doing damage.
  • The LES must work properly to keep the acid where it belongs. It is important to not further weaken the LES.
  • Digestion must work properly so food moves quickly through your system.

To go to the next page, the Symptoms Page, follow this link; leave acid reflux page.

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