An extremely common health problem, acid reflux, also known as gastro-esophageal reflux disease or GERD, affects as many as 50 percent of all Americans. Healthline.com reports the following statistics.
- Sixty percent of the adult population will experience some type of gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD) within a 12-month period and 20 to 30 percent will have weekly symptoms.
- Approximately seven million people in the United States currently have some symptoms of GERD. Approximately 20 percent of the United States population report reflux symptoms that occur at least weekly.
- Obesity is linked to the development of GERD and frequency of symptoms.
- There are approximately 64.6 million prescriptions written for GERD medications in the United States on an annual basis.
- People with GERD have a lower reported health-related qualify of life, which includes reduced enjoyment of food (80 percent), sleep problems (60 percent), and work concentration difficulties when symptoms were present (40 percent).
- It’s estimated by the American College of Gastroenterology that the symptoms of GERD result in almost $2 billion in lost productivity each week of the year.
Typical symptoms of acid reflux, commonly referred to as heartburn, are severe pain or a burning sensation that seems to start behind the breastbone and sometimes travels up to your throat. It severe cases, the symptoms, and pain caused by acid reflux are often mistaken for a heart attack or symptoms of cardiovascular disease.
Most people erroneously believe acid reflux to be caused by excessive amounts of acid generated in the stomach; acid reflux usually is the result of too little acid in the stomach. Misinformation is the reason so many patients take over-the-counter acid blockers or prescribed acid-blocking drugs.
In 2012, sales of over-the-counter digestive health products in the United States exceeded $53.3 million dollars; over 2 million dollars of that total was for antacid tablets. The remainder was for various stomach remedies, diarrhea tablets, anti-acid liquids and powders.
OTC calcium carbonate antacids are often used for immediate relieve of heartburn symptoms. The most popular OTC brands are Tums, Maalox, and Mylanta. These medications work by altering the pH balance in the stomach to reduce acidity. However, if you find you are taking antacids constantly to relieve continual discomfort, you need to schedule an appointment with your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Causes Of Heartburn
When we consume food or drink, it passes through the esophagus into the stomach. At that point, a muscular valve known as the lower esophageal sphincter or LES closes, preventing food or stomach acid from moving back up the esophagus. Acid reflux is the result of the esophageal sphincter or LES relaxing inappropriately, allowing acid from the stomach to flow or reflux backwards into the esophagus.
For persons plagued by persistent heartburn, it is important to understand that acid reflux is not a disease caused by excess acid in your stomach, rather it is symptomatic of one of two unrelated medical problems, a hiatal hernia or an infection from the Helicobacter phylori (H. pylori) strain of bacteria. H. phylori bacteria is believed to impact more than half of the world’s population and has been identified by the World Health Organization or WHO, as a Group 1 carcinogen.
Although these two conditions are unrelated, many person who suffer from a hiatal hernia are also infected with H. pylori bacteria which causes a chronic low-level inflammation of the delicate stomach lining. The bacterial infection can develop into a peptic ulcer along with associated symptoms of pain, digestion difficulties and severe, chronic heartburn.
While stomach acid is not the root cause of a stomach ulcer, treating an ulcer often involves medications to reduce or neutralize stomach acid.
Heartburn May Be A Side Effect Of Many Medications
In addition to these common underlying causes of acid reflux or GERD, certain over-the-counter, as well as prescription medications can cause heartburn. Medical research shows that aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the second leading cause of peptic ulcers.
Not only should you avoid aspirin, it is imperative while you are allowing an ulcer to heal to avoid NSAIDs. Drugs in this class include ibuprofen (Motrin, Midol) and naproxen (Naprosyn, Anaprox, Aleve).
Other common culprits are antibiotics, blood pressure medications, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medication, as well as osteoporosis and chronic pain medications.
Gastrointestinal Associates advises, “An ulcer, which is a hole or sore in the tissue lining, can occur almost anywhere in the digestive tract, but is found most frequently in the duodenum. Duodenal ulcer is about 10 times more common than gastric ulcer – ulcer of the stomach. Together, they are medically known as peptic ulcer – which is what we generally refer to by the simple term, ulcer.
So common that it is of epidemic proportion. About 10 percent of our population – over 20 million Americans – are affected. That is, they now have, have had or sometime in their lives will have an occurrence or recurrence of this chronic disease. The expression “once an ulcer, always an ulcer” means that you can never be sure an ulcer, once healed, won’t reappear. Every day, another 4,000 or so Americans develop an ulcer. Men are affected more often than women, although in recent years the percentage of afflicted women seems to be increasing.
All age groups, including infants and children, are involved. The disease strikes hardest at those between the ages of 25 and 40, persons in their most productive years. In lost hours of work and medical expenses, it causes more than $1 billion annual drain on the nation’s economy.”