What is Acid Reflux? 

What is Acid Reflux? 

Acid reflux occurs when stomach contents unintentionally enter the esophagus. It can be a recurring condition that makes drinking and eating difficult. Certain foods and lifestyle choices can improve or worsen symptoms of acid reflux. In this article we answer the questions what is acid reflux, what causes acid reflux, and what is heartburn? We also explore how to prevent acid reflux and the side effects of acid reflux.

What is Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux is the commonplace term used to refer to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It is a chronic condition in which stomach contents unintentionally rise up into the esophagus, resulting in various symptoms and complications. 

Acid reflux is often the fault of poor closure of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of valve-shaped muscle that bridges the lower esophagus and stomach. Normally, the LES stays closed, except when swallowing. However, in the case of acid reflux, the LES may open randomly, resulting in stomach acid rising back into the throat. 

What Causes Acid Reflux? 

Acid reflux is caused by improper function of the lower esophageal sphincter. Normally, the lower esophageal sphincter closes tightly after food enters the stomach. If it relaxes and stays open when it shouldn’t, acid can enter the esophagus, resulting in acid reflux. The most common trigger of acid reflux is overconsumption of acidic foods such as lemons, oranges, onions, tomatoes, chocolate, spicy peppers, and peppermint. Acid reflux can also be caused by hiatal hernia, a stomach condition in which the top of your stomach bulges through your diaphragm. 

What is Heartburn? 

Heartburn is a burning pain in the chest, usually just behind the breastbone. The pain is often at its worst shortly after eating, in the evening, or when lying down. 

It is completely normal to experience occasional heartburn. Sometimes, heartburn can simply be the result of eating too fast or too much. However, in other cases, heartburn is a sign of a serious underlying medical condition. Heartburn accompanied with profuse sweating, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath may be a sign of a more serious condition. 

What is GERD? 

Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the esophagus. It is sometimes referred to as chronic or persistent acid reflux. GERD usually happens when a valve at the end of the esophagus does not close properly as food arrives at the stomach. With the esophagus open, acid backwash can flow back up through the esophagus into the throat and mouth. 

Is Indigestion the Same as Acid Reflux?

Acid Reflux and indigestion are often used interchangeably, but there are actually many differences between the two. Acid reflux is a chronic condition that occurs mostly in the esophagus, but also involves the stomach. It is a much more specific condition than indigestion.  

In comparison, indigestion refers to a general feeling of pain and discomfort in the stomach after eating. Indigestion is often caused by simple eating habits like eating too fast or too much. Consuming carbonated beverages quickly can also lead to indigestion. Talking while eating or chewing with your mouth open can cause indigestion because it allows for an increased amount of air to enter the esophagus. 

How to Prevent Acid Reflux

Acid reflux can make eating and drinking painful and cumbersome. Fortunately, negative symptoms of acid reflux can be improved through changes in diet, over the counter medications, and lifestyle changes. 

Acid Reflux Diet 

Acid reflux often results from stomach acid making contact with the esophagus, causing irritation, pain, and a burning sensation. Some foods, particularly those low in spice, fat, and sugar, can produce a soothing effect on the esophagus and stomach. On the other hand, foods with high concentrations of sugar, fat, and spice, such as chocolate and peppermint, can be make acid reflux worse. 

Foods That Help Prevent Acid Reflux 

Since the esophagus helps transport and processes all food and liquid, diet can have a considerable effect on acid reflux symptoms. The following foods have been shown to be helpful in preventing and alleviating symptoms of acid reflux. 


Vegetables such as asparagus, cucumber, cauliflower, green beans, and broccoli may be helpful in reducing acid reflux. 

Foods With High Water Content

Foods that carry large amounts of water, such as watermelon, celery, and lettuce can help dilute and weaken stomach acid. Many of these foods are also high in magnesium, which has been proven to neutralize acid secretion in the stomach. 


Ginger contains natural anti-inflammatory and antioxidant chemicals. Some studies have shown ginger to also relieve nausea and other symptoms brought on by acid reflux. 

Foods to Avoid For Acid Reflux 

While some foods can help prevent and mitigate symptoms of acid reflux, others may only make the problem worse. Acid reflux can be exacerbated by foods high in fat and sugar such as chocolate and candy. Acidic and spicy foods may also worsen symptoms of acid reflux via the chemicals and spices they contain. 


Almost everyone loves chocolate, but those dealing with GERD or acid reflux should almost certainly stay away from it. The caffeine and theobromine present in chocolate relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter, thus allowing stomach acid to easily wash back up into the esophagus. 


Peppermint relaxes the muscles used for digestion, including the lower esophageal sphincter. While it may be able to soothe an upset stomach, the irritating effects peppermint has on the esophagus may not make up for its benefits. 

Spicy Foods

Spicy foods can worsen acid reflux in two ways. First, spicy foods contain capsaicin, an ingredient sourced from hot peppers that slows down digestion. Spicy foods can also easily irritate the esophagus after they are consumed. 

Acidic Foods and Drinks

Generally acidic foods and beverages, such as citrus fruits, fruit juice, tomatoes, and vinaigrette salad dressings should be avoided when dealing with acid reflux. 

Side Effects of Acid Reflux 

Common side effects of acid reflux include heartburn, chest pain, difficulty swallowing, regurgitation of food or liquid, and hoarse voice. These symptoms will probably be worse after eating, drinking, or lying down. 

Acid Reflux Medications 

Most acid reflux medications work in one of three ways: by decreasing the amount of acid in the stomach, by blocking acid production, or by neutralizing the acidity of stomach acid. The three most popular types of medication for acid reflux are proton pump inhibitors, H-2 receptor blockers, and antacids. 

Proton Pump Inhibitors

Proton pump inhibitors are some of the strongest acid reflux medications available. They work to block and reduce the amount of stomach acid produced by glands in the lining of the stomach. Popular proton pump inhibitors include omeprazole and lansoprazole. 

H-2 Receptor Blockers

H-2 receptor blockers work to stop the acid-making cells in the body from responding to histamine. Histamine is a chemical created by the body that plays an essential role in acid secretion. By decreasing the production of acid-making cells, H-2 receptors help to reduce stomach acidity. 


Antacids can help reduce symptoms of acid reflux by neutralizing the effectiveness of acids within the stomach. Common antacids contain calcium carbonate and magnesium, elements that can reduce spasms of the lower esophageal sphincter. 

What Is Acid Reflux?: Summary 

Acid reflux is the commonplace term used to refer to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It occurs when stomach contents unintentionally enter the esophagus. Acid reflux can be a recurring condition that makes drinking and eating difficult. 

Changes in diet and medications such as omeprazole and lansoprazole can help improve symptoms and negative side effects of acid reflux. 

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