What Are the Common Causes of Acid Reflux?

cigarette smoking

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  • The high nicotine content in tobacco may cause the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to relax. This allows stomach acid and undigested food to make their way up to the esophagus
  • When hiatal hernias become big enough, they could cause stomach acid and undigested food to re-enter the esophagus, causing acid reflux

Acid reflux may cause a variety of complications, including pain, bloating or a loss of appetite. But why does this condition happen to begin with?

There are numerous triggers that may cause this condition and influence its severity. Successfully easing the symptoms of acid reflux may be heavily dependent on your ability to determine the triggers and limit your exposure to them.

What Are the Known Triggers of Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux rarely happens without something triggering the condition. These triggers usually work by increasing the acid or the pressure in the stomach. If you’ve had enough of the discomfort that acid reflux brings, here are some of the habits that you should eliminate from your life:

Smoking — The high nicotine content in tobacco may cause the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to relax. This allows the stomach acid and undigested food to make their way up to the esophagus.1

Drinking alcohol — Alcohol increases stomach acid production and makes the esophagus more susceptible to irritation.2 In addition, alcohol may cause the LES to relax, making it easier for stomach acid to back up.3

Snacking close to bedtime — While you might get cravings before bedtime, it’s best that you curb these, especially if you knowingly suffer from acid reflux. In a 2005 study, researchers found that eating less than three hours before bedtime significantly increased your susceptibility to acid reflux.4

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — While NSAIDs may provide you with temporary relief from pain, these actually contain different components that may cause the LES to relax, causing acid reflux.5

Other Conditions That May Influence Acid Reflux

While this condition may happen on its own when triggered by external factors, certain diseases and conditions may also heighten your risk. The most common causes of acid reflux include the following:

Hiatal hernia — A hiatal hernia refers to a condition where a small part of the stomach bulges through the hiatus, a normal opening in the diaphragm that allows the esophagus to connect to the stomach. The primary cause of a hiatal hernia is unclear, but it may be triggered by the loss of elasticity in the tissues and increased abdominal pressure.6

When hiatal hernias become big enough, they could cause stomach acid and undigested food to re-enter the esophagus, causing acid reflux. The severity of this condition largely influences the mode of treatment needed. You may ease the symptoms by avoiding certain foods or taking remedies to fight acid reflux. In a worst-case scenario, you may need to undergo surgery to correct the placement of the stomach.7

Gastroparesis — Also known as delayed gastric emptying, this is when undigested food stays in the stomach longer than normal. The stomach is usually responsible for breaking down ingested food through the stomach acid and contractions. This causes the food to travel to the small intestine at a slower pace. In some instances, the movement stops altogether.

The mechanism as to why gastroparesis causes acid reflux is not yet clear, but this condition is known to aggravate preexisting GERD.8

Pregnancy — The physical and hormonal changes that accompany pregnancy may trigger numerous conditions, including acid reflux. The hormonal changes may cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax at inappropriate periods, letting stomach acid back into the esophagus.9 The growth of the fetus may also cause a considerable amount of pressure on the stomach, which can cause undigested food to be pushed up.10

Obesity — The rise in obesity rates runs parallel to the rise in the number of acid reflux patients, which is one of the main reasons why obesity is being pinpointed as one of this condition’s main causes. Researchers and health professionals note that the increased abdominal fat presses on the stomach, creating more pressure than the stomach is used to. This may then cause the stomach acid to push through the esophageal sphincter.

The hormonal inadequacies observed in obese people might also cause abnormalities in the digestive system, weakening the muscles and allowing acid reflux to develop.11

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