What Is Acid Reflux?

acid reflux or heartburn

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  • A 2008 study done in Japan claimed that acid reflux was especially widespread in the female population, implying that women were more at risk
  • During episodes of acid reflux, the LES is unable to keep the stomach acid from traveling back up the esophagus, causing pain as the acid comes into contact with the sensitive lining
  • Reflux esophagitis is the most common complication that may arise from acid reflux

Acid reflux is a fairly common condition that affects a significant portion of the American population. Unlike other diseases, acid reflux is not limited to a specific age group. It has been known to affect infants, children and the elderly, in addition to the high percentage of adults who suffer from this problem daily.

The risk factors of acid reflux are not as clear as other diseases, with scientific studies showing varied results. A 2007 study observed that sex and age had no link to acid reflux, while a 2011 study1 claimed that age and sex directly influenced its development.

Additionally, a 2008 study done in Japan claimed that acid reflux was especially widespread in the female population, implying that women were more at risk.2 This is backed by the fact that women report acid reflux symptoms more than men, but this may be influenced by differential sensitivities.3

A 2011 study showed that in specific populations, more women went to the doctor for acid reflux than men. However, it should be noted that men typically underreport the severity of their acid reflux symptoms, which may explain the low percentages.4

How Does Acid Reflux Happen?

When a person eats, food travels down the esophagus toward the stomach. In normal instances, the esophagus is akin to a one-way street, but this is not always the case.5 Acid reflux occurs in the lower part of the esophagus or the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). During episodes of acid reflux, the LES is unable to keep the stomach acid from traveling back up the esophagus, causing pain as the acid comes into contact with the sensitive lining.6

Some people may also call acid reflux “heartburn,” but this is only one of the symptoms of this condition. The term heartburn refers to the pain patients feel in their lower chest or the back of their throat. However, while it may be easy to mistake chest pain with heartburn, it’s important to know the difference between the two. If you experience any severe pain in the chest area (even if you suspect it is acid reflux), do not set it aside as a normal occurrence.7

What Are the Possible Complications of Untreated Acid Reflux?

While acid reflux may seem like a relatively harmless condition, it can actually lead to numerous complications. Some of the serious conditions that you may develop if acid reflux remains undiagnosed or untreated are:

  • Esophagitis — Reflux esophagitis is the most common complication that may arise from acid reflux. It refers to the inflammation and irritation of the esophagus, which may be caused by acid reflux and bacterial or viral infections.8
  • Barrett’s Esophagus — This is when the materials that make up the esophagus are replaced with tissues similar to intestinal lining. This exposes you to a higher risk of developing adenocarcinoma, or cancer of the esophagus. Barrett’s esophagus does not present any additional symptoms aside from those it shares with acid reflux.9
  • Adenocarcinoma — This type of cancer typically develops in organ linings and is most commonly seen in the colon, esophagus, lungs and prostate. In esophageal cancer, the cancer cells start growing in the mucus glands in the lower part of the esophagus. This is one of the most dangerous types of cancer, with the five-year survival rate at only 17 percent.10

MORE ABOUT ACID REFLUX

Acid Reflux: Introduction

What Is Acid Reflux?

Acid Reflux Symptoms

Acid Reflux Causes

How to Get Rid of Acid Reflux

Acid Reflux Treatment

Acid Reflux Prevention

Acid Reflux Diet

Acid Reflux FAQ

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