Acid Reflux: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment of Heartburn

Gastrointestinal reflux refers to the chronic digestive condition commonly called acid reflux. The lower esophageal sphincter functions as a valve. This muscle located in the esophagus remains closed most of the time. It opens to allow food and fluids to pass to the stomach. In the presence of acid reflux, the lower esophageal sphincter does not close completely or may open spontaneously for varying lengths of time. Food and acid from the stomach flows back into the esophagus. Acid blockers, which include H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors, are a group of medications used to treat acid reflux.

acid reflux

Causes of Acid Reflux

Medical experts acknowledge a malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter as the mechanism for acid reflux but the exact cause for this problem remains unclear. According to the Medical News Today website, certain conditions, foods and habits contribute to the incidence of acid reflux.

Women can experience acid reflux during pregnancy and especially during the third trimester. As the baby grows, increased pressure is applied to the stomach resulting in the reflux of food and acids into the esophagus. In an article published in the January 2006 issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology, Douglas Corley reports the documented link between obesity and acid reflux. A review of 20 studies on this subject confirmed an association between increased body weight and the incidence of acid reflux.

Eating large meals and certain foods, such as fatty or fried foods, spicy foods and foods containing tomatoes, worsen the symptoms of acid reflux.

Smoking increases the production of stomach acids, weakens the esophageal sphincter and slows the process of digestion. The delay in the digestion process causes the pressure in the stomach to remain high for a longer time. Increased stomach pressure results in acid reflux.

Symptoms of Acid Reflux

A burning sensation spreading from the stomach up to the throat is the most common symptom of acid reflux. This sensation of heartburn occurs following a heavy meal, when bending over or lifting a heavy object or lying down. Most people with frequent acid reflux experience heartburn at night. Another commonly experienced symptom is the sensation that food is trapped in the chest. Less commonly experienced symptoms are a chronic sore throat and persistent hiccups.

Treatment of Acid Reflux

The aim of treatment for acid reflux focuses on acid suppression. Prescribed medications reduce the amount of acid produced and correct the function of the lower esophageal sphincter are referred to as acid blockers. This group of drugs includes H2 blockers and proton pump inhibitors.

The H2 blockers block the histamine receptors which are located on the acid producing cells found in the stomach. Initial treatment employs over- the -counter H2 blockers. If the symptoms of acid reflux are not relieve with over-the-counter strength H2 blockers, a physician will order the stronger prescription strength form of these drugs.

Proton pump inhibitors are used if symptoms are not relieved with H2 blocker treatment. The proton pump inhibitors work by blocking the proton pump or acid producing enzyme found in the stomach lining.

By inhibiting the final step in the production of stomach acid, proton pump inhibitors effectively reduce acid levels.

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Is There A Strong Link Between Anxiety, Insomnia & Depression?

Insomnia has long been recognized as a symptom of depression and anxiety disorders, but we’re learning that the relationship is a lot more complex. While negative thoughts, stress, worry, or irrational fears can keep you up at night and make it hard to fall asleep, good sleep is also essential for your mental health. This means that it isn’t a one-way street and insomnia or poor quality sleep can also contribute to or exacerbate anxiety and depressive disorders. In many ways the link between insomnia, anxiety, and depression is like the classic case of the ‘chicken or the egg’, where it’s hard to really pinpoint either as being the primary cause or the outcome. Understanding their relationship, however, can help in the development of effective prevention and treatment strategies.

How Insomnia Increases the Risk of Anxiety & Depression

Just one night of poor sleep can take a toll on your mood, leaving you feeling fatigued and down the following day. The effects are even worse when you don’t get adequate sleep on a regular basis, so it should come as no surprise that insomnia significantly increases the risk of depression. Studies suggest that individuals who suffer from insomnia may be up to ten times more likely to eventually suffer from depression, as compared to people who sleep well. Even in cases where insomnia doesn’t itself give rise to anxiety or depressive disorders, it can have a cascading effect, delaying recovery from mental illness. For example, research shows that patients are less responsive to treatments for anxiety and depression when they continue to suffer from insomnia.
Although we don’t fully understand how insomnia makes us more vulnerable to depression, we’re gaining new insights from research. It appears that insomnia and sleep deprivation can adversely affect our ability to process and deal with negative emotions. A study that appeared in the journal Biological Psychology shows that individuals suffering from sleep deprivation have a stronger emotional response to negative images, as opposed to those with positive or neutral emotional content. In those with healthy sleep patterns, no such difference in response was observed. Other research also supports these findings, with brain scans revealing higher activity in emotion processing areas of the brain with negative stimuli. What this means is that when you are sleep deprived, you will find it harder to control your emotions, especially when dealing with unpleasant tasks and situations.
Poor quality sleep also has an impact on mood and energy levels, making it hard to stay motivated, focused, and to perform at optimal levels during the day. This reduction in quality of life can make you feel even worse about yourself, increasing the risk of depression and anxiety or worsening the conditions if they are already present.

How Anxiety & Depression Increase the Risk of Insomnia

Insomnia is regarded as one of the key problems that can develop as a result of mental illness, affecting up to 80% of people with depression and around 70% of those with generalized anxiety disorder. While this doesn’t necessarily mean that all cases of prevalence indicate insomnia to be an outcome, patients who suffer from anxiety disorders and depression commonly report difficulty falling and staying asleep. Patients typically suffer from higher than normal levels of psychological distress, making it harder to relax and this reduces one’s ability to fall asleep. It is not uncommon for anxiety to give rise to insomnia, as anxiety disorders involve a heightened state of arousal. Depression on the other hand may not always cause insomnia, but even if an individual gets enough sleep, this is often of a poor quality.
Studies have found that individuals suffering from generalized anxiety disorders tend to have increased sleep latency, which refers to the time it takes for one to fall into the state of sleep. They also have more wakefulness after the onset of sleep, with the combined effect of a reduction in the total amount of sleep time. Early morning awakenings are also a lot more common and may be observed as a symptom in individuals who suffer from either anxiety or depressive disorders.
When it comes to the link between insomnia and anxiety or depression, the relationship is best described as bidirectional, as it’s usually hard to establish which problem appeared first. What’s clear is that having one problem can worsen or trigger the onset of the other and vice versa, making it important to address both problems simultaneously.

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