Reflux, also known as acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux (GER), is a condition where the contents of the stomach, including stomach acid, flow back into the esophagus due to the weakening or relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter. This can cause a variety of symptoms, such as heartburn, regurgitation, difficulty swallowing, and chest pain, and can lead to complications if left untreated.
What is reflux?
Reflux, also known as acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux (GER), is a condition in which the stomach's contents, including stomach acid, flow back into the esophagus. The esophagus is the muscular tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. Reflux occurs when the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), relaxes or weakens, allowing stomach contents to flow back up into the esophagus.
Reflux can cause a variety of symptoms, including heartburn, regurgitation of food or acid into the mouth, difficulty swallowing, chest pain, and coughing. Chronic reflux can also lead to complications such as esophagitis (inflammation of the esophagus), strictures (narrowing of the esophagus), and Barrett's esophagus (a pre-cancerous condition). Treatment for reflux typically involves lifestyle modifications, such as avoiding trigger foods and losing weight, as well as medication to reduce acid production or improve the function of the LES. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary.
What are the causes of reflux?
Reflux is caused by the weakening or relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a muscle located at the bottom of the esophagus that normally prevents stomach acid from flowing back up into the esophagus. When the LES is weakened, stomach acid can flow back up into the esophagus, causing symptoms of reflux.
Some of the factors that can contribute to LES dysfunction include:
- Hiatal hernia: A condition in which part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm and into the chest.
- Obesity: Excess body weight can put pressure on the stomach and LES, leading to reflux.
- Pregnancy: The growing uterus can put pressure on the stomach, leading to reflux.
- Certain foods: Some foods, such as spicy or fatty foods, chocolate, caffeine, and alcohol, can weaken the LES or irritate the esophagus, leading to reflux.
- Smoking: Smoking can weaken the LES and increase stomach acid production.
- Medications: Certain medications, such as those used to treat asthma, high blood pressure, and anxiety, can weaken the LES or increase acid production.
- Genetic factors: Reflux may run in families, suggesting a genetic component.
- Aging: As we age, the LES may weaken, increasing the risk of reflux.
It's worth noting that while these factors can contribute to reflux, not everyone who experiences reflux has one or more of these risk factors.
How can a dietitian help with reflux?
A registered dietitian can play an important role in helping individuals manage reflux symptoms through dietary modifications. Some of the ways a dietitian can help with reflux include:
- Identifying trigger foods: Certain foods can exacerbate reflux symptoms in some individuals. A dietitian can help identify trigger foods and suggest alternatives or modifications to minimize symptoms.
- Providing guidance on portion sizes: Overeating can put pressure on the stomach, leading to reflux symptoms. A dietitian can provide guidance on appropriate portion sizes and meal frequency to help prevent overeating.
- Recommending meal timing: Eating meals too close to bedtime can increase the risk of reflux symptoms. A dietitian can recommend appropriate meal timing and suggest snacks that are less likely to trigger symptoms.
- Recommending dietary changes to manage other health conditions: Certain health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, may require dietary modifications that can also help manage reflux symptoms.
Overall, a dietitian can work with individuals to develop a personalized dietary plan that addresses their specific reflux symptoms and helps them manage the condition through dietary modifications.
Discover a healthier, happier you.
- Covered by insurance
- Registered dietitians
- Virtual sessions