Symptoms of acid reflux

Acid reflux can trigger a variety of symptoms including heartburn, nausea and hiccups


Alison Cullen
Nutritional Practitioner, BA (Hons), DN, DNT (Distinction)
@AVogelUK
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An introduction to the symptoms of acid reflux

Acid reflux arises when the acidic contents of the stomach leak out, backwards and upwards into the gullet or oesophagus. It is a relatively common condition and most of us will have experienced a bout of two of acid reflux after eating too much.

However, acid reflux can also be a health condition and people suffering the problem experience a range of recurrent symptoms.

Heartburn

Heartburn is often the most common symptom of acid reflux and occurs because acid from the stomach irritates the lining of the oesophagus or gullet.

Secretions from the stomach are acidic to help the digestive process, and the lining of this part of the body has been designed to cope with the irritating effects of gastric acid and enzymes. However, this is not the case with the oesophagus.

When stomach acid comes into contact with the cells lining the oesophagus, tissues become inflamed and this is when you experience pain in your chest behind your breastbone.

As the gullet lies close to the heart, pain arising from this organ can appear to come from the heart – which explains the term ‘heartburn’. On the other hand, some people suffering angina or a heart attack can mistake symptoms for indigestion.

If you experience or are concerned about any type of pain in the chest, seek medical attention immediately.

Sour taste

Acids have a sour taste - lemons taste the way they do because of the acids they contain.

When stomach acid leaks and travels all the way back into the back of your throat or mouth, the sourness you taste is in fact the taste of stomach acid. This symptom is most common when you bend over or lie down, particularly after a large meal.

Regurgitation

A stage further from having a sour taste in your mouth is regurgitation. This is when partially digested food leaks back up into the oesophagus and mouth. Regurgitation can be accompanied by a bitter taste (caused by gastric enzymes), making it one of the most unpleasant symptoms of acid reflux.

If you experience regurgitation regularly, it is often a sign that the valve lying between your gullet and stomach has weakened. This means that the stomach is not able to close completely.

Nausea

Experiencing a sour or bitter taste in your mouth can frequently lead to nausea and sometimes even vomiting.

Of course, most problems with the digestive system can give rise to nausea, as can motion sickness.

If you are experiencing persistent unexplained nausea seek help from your doctor to rule out any underlying health problems. This is especially important if you are vomiting or suffering from headaches.

Hiccups

Most people will have experienced hiccups at some point in their life.

Persistent hiccups lasting for more than 48 hours, or recurring short episodes of hiccups, may indicate a problem with your upper digestive tract.

Another common symptoms of acid relux is hiccups. Stomach acid irritating the lower part of the oesophagus (gullet) can bring about an inflammatory process spreading to surrounding tissues.

Inflammation reaching the diaphragm (a big muscular structure dividing the chest from the abdomen) causes it to contract spasmodically, giving rise to hiccups.

In rare cases, persistent hiccups can be an indication of other health conditions such as an infection of the gallbladder or kidney disease.

Less common symptoms

Prolonged bouts of acid reflux can result in a few less commonly encountered symptoms:

  • Dry coughthis comes about as a result of acid irritating the back of the throat (known as the pharynx). The body’s natural response at clearing any irritation in this area is to cough – commonly seen when  mucus is lurking around if you have the cold or flu. Coughs caused by acid reflux are usually persistent and worsen when lying down
  • Hoarseness – stomach acid can sometimes irritate the larynx (voicebox), making you sound hoarse. You may feel as if you are coming down with a cold or flu, although no other symptoms develop
  • Excessive saliva – in health, saliva helps us chew and has enzymes to help break down food. It also helps us wash away any irritants in the mouth and throat. With acid reflux, the salivary glands produce more saliva than normal in an attempt at removing the irritant.
  • Difficulty swallowingthis is known as dysphagia. People with chronic acid reflux can develop this symptom as the constant stream of acid irritating the lining of the oesophagus gives rise to scar tissue. This can, over time, narrow the gullet, making it more difficult to swallow.

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Did you know?

Acid reflux at night is an all-too-common problem, contributing to an estimated 7% of sleepless nights, which can lead to fatigue, increased anxiety or concentration lapses the following day.

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