- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Chest Pain From Acid Reflux
If you suffer from acid reflux, or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), you're probably more than familiar with acid reflux chest pain. It's usually felt as a sharp pain or burning sensation in your chest, and it may radiate up into your throat. It often occurs when you exercise or lie down too soon after a meal, or when you just eat the wrong kinds of foods.
What Causes Acid Reflux Chest Pain
GERD is a disorder of the digestive system in which the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), a ring of muscle that keeps the stomach's contents in place, does not close tightly, or opens at the wrong time. When that happens, stomach acid and undigested food are able to get back up into the esophagus, causing heartburn or, in more severe cases, chest pain.
Many people who experience acid reflux chest pain for the first time mistake the uncomfortable sensation for a heart attack. In fact, the chest pain associated with acid reflux can closely mimic a heart attack. That's why it's so important to let your doctor know if you've been having pain in your chest. Only a physician can pinpoint the cause of your discomfort and get you feeling better.
If the pain in your chest is caused by GERD, the doctor will probably recommend one or more courses of action, including:
* Weight Loss
* Quitting Smoking
* Eating smaller, more frequent meals
* Acid reflux diet
Smoking and obesity are major risk factors for GERD, but what you eat and when you eat it are also important considerations. Most doctors recommend that you not lie down for three hours after your last meal of the day, and avoid the foods known to cause acid reflux chest pain.
While there is a very large list of foods to avoid on an acid reflux diet, these are the top 5 offenders.
Caffeine and Heartburn
Coffee and other caffeinated drinks are big no-no's for acid reflux sufferers. Studies have shown a strong connection between caffeine and acid reflux chest pain. Caffeine is believed to relax the LES and even trigger increased production of stomach acid, which will lead to acid reflux symptoms.
You can try decaffeinated coffee and caffeine free soft drinks to avoid the burn, but drinking more water is a healthier choice. Water also keeps you hydrated and helps to flush toxins from your system without causing acid reflux symptoms.
Fatty Foods and Acid Reflux chest Pain
Fatty foods can leave you feeling sluggish and bloated, but a diet that's high in fat can have other negative side effects as well. In addition to being a major contributor to high blood cholesterol, foods that are deep fried or high in fat can often trigger acid reflux symptoms. These should be limited on any healthy diet, but acid reflux patients need to be especially careful of foods high in fat.
Recent studies have suggested that spicy foods do not necessarily cause heartburn, but there are a lot of GERD sufferers might disagree. Spicy foods can irritate your stomach lining and, if you have chronic acid reflux, that spicy Thai food may very well burn you twice!
Since different people react in different ways to certain foods, spicy foods may not be a problem for you. Try keeping a log of foods that trigger your symptoms. You may be surprised by which foods make the list and which ones do not.
Citrus Fruits and GERD
Citrus fruits are extremely acidic. It's believed that they may even trigger excessive production of stomach acid. You should avoid oranges, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits and juices to help keep reflux symptoms at bay. You should also consider limiting other acidic foods, such as tomatoes or or foods containing tomato products, like pizza.
Alcohol relaxes the LES muscle presure. If you already suffer from acid reflux chest pain, a couple of drinks can make the problem even worse. You may be able to enjoy an occasional adult beverage, but if you overdo it, be prepared to pay the consequences.
If you do enjoy drinking alcoholic beverages, try choosing drinks with a lower alcohol content. It probably won't take you long to learn your limitations.
Other GERD Symptoms
Not everyone who has GERD experiences acid reflux chest pain, or even heartburn. Other common GERD symptoms may include:
* Chronic dry cough
* Difficulty swallowing
* Wheezing or other asthma symptoms
Common Treatments For Acid Reflux Chest Pain
Antacids are fine for soothing occasional heartburn, but if you have chronic acid reflux, they can make the problem even worse. If you experience symptoms more than once or twice a week, it could be a sign of a more serious problem.
If left untreated, GERD can lead to scarring of the esophagus, making it difficult to swallow. Repeated exposure to stomach acid can also cause inflammation of the esophagus, bleeding or ulcers in the esophagus, and possibly esophageal cancer.
If your diet and lifestyle changes aren't helping, don't panic. Your doctor still has other treatment options to pursue. There are many acid reflux medications available, both over the counter and in prescription strength. Among the most effective of these are proton pump inhibitors, like Prilosec and Nexium. These not only restrict production of stomach acid, but can also heal esophageal damage already caused by acid reflux.
H2 blockers like Zantac and Tagamet are also popular, though somewhat less effective than proton pump inhibitors. They typically lessen acid reflux chest pain or other GERD symptoms in about half of all people who have tried them.
Acid Reflux Surgery
If after trying diet changes and acid reflux medications your symptoms still persist, your doctor may order one or more diagnostic tests to determine the severity or other possible causes of your GERD. In addition to the risk factors and acid reflux causes already listed, hiatal hernia is one of the most frequently diagnosed causes of acid reflux.
For patients with a hiatal hernia or severe GERD, surgery may be in order. For those who are not likely to get long term relief from diet and medication, the most common surgical procedure is fundoplication, sometimes called a gastric wrap.
Gastric wrap surgery involves wrapping the top portion of the stomach around the esophagus. This procedure relieves acid reflux chest pain by both repairing a hiatal hernia, if there is one, and strengthening the lower esophageal sphincter.
Because this surgery is generally done through very small incisions, recovery time is shorter than that of other types of surgery, and time in hospital is generally only two to three days.
Learn The Facts About Acid Reflux
One of the best lines of defense against any disease is knowledge. As you learn more about your specific health concern, you'll feel less helpless and gain confidence in your doctor's treatment plan. To learn more about acid reflux chest pain, treatment, or acid reflux surgery, visit the website of the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse.