You have acid reflux when the contents of your stomach, including stomach acid, travel out of the stomach and into the esophagus.
A muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter typically opens to let food into the stomach then closes so the food and acids stay in there. When the muscle weakens or relaxes at the wrong time, it lets stomach contents flow out.
Acid reflux causes symptoms such as:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
- Dry cough
- Hoarseness or sore throat
Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) often mean the same condition. GERD is a chronic form of acid reflux that can cause complications as long-term exposure of the esophagus to stomach acid results in inflammation, bleeding, and precancerous changes in esophageal cells.
Treatment for acid reflux consists of lifestyle modifications and various medications, including:
Over-the-counter antacids neutralize stomach acid, providing quick relief for acid reflux symptoms. Antacids can’t heal the esophagus or stop acid reflux, however.
These medications reduce the amount of acid produced by your stomach for up to 12 hours. They’re available over-the-counter and in prescription-strength.
Proton pump inhibitors
Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) also block acid production, but they’re stronger than H2 blockers, which gives the esophagus more time to heal.
PPIs are available over-the-counter and with a prescription. Long-term use may increase your risk of bone fractures and nutrient deficiencies, so consult your doctor before taking over-the-counter PPIs longer than recommended.
Losing weight can alleviate acid reflux. Extra weight contributes to acid reflux as the weight increases abdominal pressure, which pushes against the lower esophageal sphincter. As a result, symptoms often improve in proportion to the amount of weight lost.
You can also take other steps that lower the risk of acid reflux, such as:
- Raise the head of your bed
- Stop eating at least three to four hours before lying down
- Eat moderate portions and small meals
- Wear loose belts and clothing
- Limit consumption of items that relax the lower esophageal muscle:
- Fatty foods
- Coffee and tea