Today’s fast-moving world demands our buzzing energy round the clock. Along with such pressure comes unhealthy habits like working overtime, eating at odd hours or skipping meals which makes us vulnerable to a number of ailments. One such common problem that we face, irrespective of gender or age, is acidity.
While the occasional occurrence of acidity is not a severe issue, it shouldn’t be neglected as it can eventually lead to persistent health problems, triggering other gastro-intestinal or gastro-oesophageal maladies. So, read on to find out everything there is to know about acidity.
What Is Acidity?
Acidity is a common health disorder, the main symptom of which is burning pain, often known as heartburn, in the lower chest area. It occurs when the gastric acid regurgitates (flows back or refluxes) into the food pipe or oesophagus. In extreme cases, when acidity occurs regularly more than twice a week, it may lead to a chronic disease called Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).
How Does Acidity Occur?
Acidity occurs when the LES or Lower Oesophageal Sphincter is impaired. The LES is a special ring muscle present at the lower end of the oesophagus where it is linked to the stomach. When food or saliva is swallowed, the LES muscle relaxes for some time to direct the food or saliva into the stomach through the oesophagus. Once the food reaches the stomach, the LES contracts and closes the passage to prevent the food and gastric juices from flowing back into the oesophagus.
Due to the consumption of oily and spicy food, high amount of acid, much more than what is required, is produced in the stomach by the gastric glands for the digestion process. It flows back into the oesophagus when the LES relaxes, thus causing a burning sensation just above the stomach or right under the breastbone. Even after a heavy meal, which can make you feel ‘stuffed’, the excess food puts pressure on the LES muscle causing it to open and allow the gastric juices to regurgitate into the food pipe.
Who Is Prone to Acidity?
Erratic lifestyle and unhealthy food habits make us susceptible to acidity. You are especially vulnerable to acidity if you:
Consume spicy and oily food and non-vegetarian food frequently
Consume food at odd hours, skip meals or overeat frequently
Are approaching menopause as the changing oestrogen levels result in an imbalance in the acid production in the stomach
Are pregnant as the elevated hormone levels during pregnancy and pressure on the abdomen from the growing foetus causes reflux by increasing the pressure on the LES
Suffer from diseases that weaken the oesophageal muscles, for example, scleroderma or connective tissue disorders and other maladies like diabetes, peptic ulcers, asthma, hiatal hernia or Zollinger-Ellison syndrome
Causes of Acidity
The various causes of acidity are as follows:
Unhealthy and Erratic Eating Habits
Overeating, having food at odd hours of the day, skipping meals or having meals just before sleeping increases risks of acid reflux.
Consumption of Certain Food Items in Excess Amount
Excessive consumption of caffeinated beverages, soft drinks or soda, chocolates, spicy, oily and fatty food items which includes junk foods like burgers, french fries, pizzas, etc., citrus fruits, vegetables and their products such as lemon, tomato, tomato sauce, orange juice, etc. can lead to acidity.
Existing Medical Conditions
Connective tissue disorders or scleroderma and similar other diseases that weaken the oesophageal muscles or affect acid production in the stomach such as obesity, diabetes, asthma, peptic ulcers, hiatal hernia, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, etc. can cause acidity. Aging and pregnancy can also lead to acid reflux.
Side Effects of Medication
Consumption of several antibiotics, anti-depressants, and anti-anxiety drugs, antihistamines, high blood pressure medicines, calcium channel blockers, bisphosphonates for bone disorders, Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) increase the chances of acidity.
Lifestyle habits that are detrimental to health such as unusual sleeping hours, smoking (both active and passive) and consumption of alcohol, stress, lack of sleep and low level of physical exercise can trigger symptoms of acidity. Infection by a certain bacterium called Helicobacter pylori also causes acid reflux.
Symptoms of Acidity
The primary symptoms of acid reflux are:
Often mistaken for chest pain, heartburn occurs when acid refluxes into the oesophagus. The burning pain, as a result of heartburn, may start high in the abdominal region or even extend up into the neck area. Sometimes the pain feels similar to heart pain or angina. Heartburns are common after meals, especially when a person is lying down as, without the effects of gravity, it becomes easier for reflux to occur.
The appearance of the refluxed liquid or food in the mouth, owing to large quantities getting past the UES or the Upper Oesophagus Sphincter, and then entering the throat is known as regurgitation. Consequently, people feel a sour taste in their mouth. Frequent occurrences of regurgitation can even cause acid-induced erosion of the teeth.
While it might be uncommon in some patients suffering from acid reflux, the occurrence of unexplained nausea and the resultant vomiting can be a primary symptom of acid reflux.
Besides, difficulties in swallowing, restlessness, belching, indigestion, bad breath, dry and persistent coughing, wheezing, dental erosion, and constipation are some of the other indicators of acid reflux.
Diagnosis of Acidity
While heartburn is the most common symptom of acid reflux, if you suffer from one or more of the above-mentioned signs of acidity, you should consult any general practitioner or your family doctor. The various diagnostic approaches in the case of acidity are as follows:
Although this is not a very reliable technique, diagnosis is made based on the response of symptoms to a treatment, i.e. patients experiencing heartburn are medicated to suppress acid production in the stomach and if the heartburn diminishes considerably, the occurrence of acid reflux is confirmed.
Oesophagram or an X-ray of the oesophagus detects the infrequent complications of acid reflux. Before the advent of endoscopy, it was the only means of diagnosing acidity.
With EGD (Oesophago-Gastro-Duodenoscopy), diagnosis of acidity can be confirmed when the patient’s oesophagus lining is inflamed or there are erosions and ulcers.
Besides the above-mentioned techniques, there are acid reflux tests which are conducted by physicians for the purpose of diagnosis. These include oesophageal motility testing, oesophageal acid testing, acid perfusion test, and gastric emptying studies.
Complications of Acidity:
Apart from excessive vomiting, severe chest and abdomen pain and swallowing difficulties, here are some other serious complications of persistent acid reflux:
The acidic fluid from the stomach which flows into the oesophagus damages its lining, causing ulcers. Ulcers and the accompanying inflammations in esophagitis can give rise to severe bleeding in the oesophagus. It is also associated with a higher risk of cancer.
Prolonged GERD causes alterations in the cells of oesophageal lining resulting in Barrett’s Oesophagus. The consequence is a type of oesophageal cancer called Adenocarcinoma.
The scar tissues, due to ulcers, shrink over time and narrow the inner cavity of the oesophagus. When this scarred narrowing, also known as a stricture, becomes severe, food may get stuck in the oesophagus and an endoscopic removal may become necessary.
Inflammation of Throat and Larynx
Patients end up with a sore and hoarse throat as a result of inflammation in the throat (pharynx) and voice box (larynx) when the refluxed fluid gets past the UES (Upper Oesophageal Sphincter).
Cough and Asthma
Due to the stimulation by refluxed acid, certain nerves present in the lower oesophagus provoke coughing and asthma attacks.
Fluid in the Middle Ear and Sinuses
In children, if the refluxed fluids reach the throat, they can inflame the lymph tissues present at the junction of the upper throat and nasal passage called the adenoids, causing them to swell. Consequently, fluid gets accumulated and produces discomfort in the sinuses and ears.
How to Avoid Acidity?
While acidity is a common ailment, it isn’t too difficult to avoid it, provided you make some changes in your lifestyle and maintain a healthy diet.
Altering your lifestyle may not only help to treat acidity but also improve your overall well being. Having food at the right time of the day and at regular intervals, abstaining from consumptions late in the night, correcting postures and sitting up straight, doing regular exercises, avoiding excess alcohol consumption and smoking and not wearing tight belts and clothes, which may otherwise increase pressure on the abdomen, are some of the essential measures to avoid acidity problems.
Refrain from consuming too much of chocolates, caffeinated beverages, carbonated drinks, and acidic juices. While spices themselves contain ayurvedic properties, excess consumption of spicy and oily food is a common cause of acidity and, therefore, should be avoided to the best possible extent. Also, overeating should also be avoided.
Treatment of Acidity
Generally, medication can treat acidity effectively. In extreme cases, a GERD surgery might be recommended by your physician. Besides, there are natural remedies too to cure acidity which includes incorporating certain food items in your daily meals.
Histamine antagonists or H2 blockers which include cimetidine, ranitidine, and famotidine and PPIs (Proton Pump Inhibitors) including omeprazole, rabeprazole, and esomeprazole are effective treatments for people suffering from frequent acid reflux. Both of these reduce the production of acid and reduce the damage it can cause. While the medication is effective, like any other prescription drug, they may produce side effects in several people such as malnutrition due to abnormalities in nutrient absorption.
Over-the-counter or OTC treatments such as antacids can be used for instant relief in case of infrequent occurrences of heartburn or indigestion. You can also opt for alginate drugs which make the reflux relatively harmless by changing its constitution from damaging gastric acid to alginic acid.
If GERD becomes unresponsive to medical treatment, the necessity for a surgery arises. The surgical procedure is termed as fundoplication. It can be conducted through an incision in the abdomen called laparotomy or using a technique called laparoscopy. The latter is preferred as the patient gets an artificial LES after the upper region of the stomach is wrapped around the lower oesophagus during the surgery. There is no need of a major incision in the abdomen in this technique.
In recent times, various endoscopic treatments have been developed and tested for curing acid reflux.
Ayurveda Medicine for Acidity
According to Ayurveda, the age-old system of natural healing, acidity is caused due to an imbalance of heat energy in our cells (also known as Pitta). So it suggests that the best way to treat acid reflux is to eat foods that give a cooling and soothing feeling that assuage the symptoms. Here are a few Ayurvedic remedies:
Chewing a few tulsi (holy basil) leaves can relieve the uneasiness caused by acidity. It also has antiulcer properties and enhances mucus production
Buttermilk, or ‘chaas’, considered a ‘sattvic food’ in Ayurveda, contains lactic acid which normalizes the acidity in the stomach and serves as the best alternative to antacids
Eating bananas is one of the simplest Ayurvedic remedies due to the potassium content acting as an excellent buffer to prevent acidity
Cloves, cardamom, aniseed, and cumin, all of these help in digestion and can thus, cure acid reflux
Boil and then drink the cooled solution of mint leaves to get relief from the burning sensation. Alternatively, you can also have peppermint tea
Amla or Indian gooseberry cures a wide range of digestive ailments including acidity. The high content of vitamin C aids in healing the agitated oesophageal and gastric lining
Ginger has excellent digestive and anti-inflammatory properties. Sip a cup of ginger tea or chew a slice of fresh ginger daily to get rid of acidity
Incorporate baked fennel seeds in your daily diet as they can soothe your stomach, treating acidity
Having aloe vera juice helps to alleviate the burning pains caused as a result of acidity
Include fresh fruits and leafy vegetables in your meals as they are naturally low in sugar and fat content. This helps to reduce the production of stomach acid
Being aware of the various causes, symptoms, and remedies of acidity can prepare you to deal with it when it occurs. However, if you are confused about the most appropriate remedy from the list of treatments for acidity mentioned above, simply turn to Gas-O-Fast for help. Always keep a sachet of Gas-O-Fast handy to keep the resultant discomfort of acidity away. Filled with excellent antacid properties of Jeera along with its Ayurvedic contents, Gas-O-Fast targets the source of acidity and relieves you from the burning pain instantly. So the next time you suffer from acidity, take Gas-O-Fast for quick remedy and instant relief.