Acid reflux, also known as heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is condition marked by the migration of stomach acid into the esophagus.
To understand how acid reflux happens, it’s important to know a little about normal digestion first. After you chew and swallow food, it enters the esophagus, which has a delicate lining called the mucosa. Digestive muscles push the food down the esophagus and through a valve-like opening called the lower esophageal sphincter, which connects the esophagus and the stomach. In most people, the lower esophageal sphincter remains closed after the food passes through it.
When the food enters the stomach, a mix of acid and enzymes that our bodies produce help break the food down more. The acid is quite powerful; in fact, a similar acid is often used to clean concrete. The stomach also pulverizes the mix before pushing the food and stomach juices into the small intestines.
In people with acid reflux, the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) doesn’t close properly, and the acid in the stomach splashes into the esophagus during digestion; for some, the migration happens when the person reclines, bends over or lifts something heavy. While the stomach lining is able to resist the intensity acid, the esophageal lining is more fragile. When it is repeatedly exposed to acid, the lining wears away, causing a condition called erosive esophagitis. Left untreated or undertreated, the condition can advance to a precancerous condition (Barrett’s esophagus) or esophageal cancer.
The most common result of this is a burning sensation. Other symptoms of acid reflux include:
Learn more about acid reflux and what can be done to treat it.
When the valve that connects the lower esophagus to the stomach closes properly, acid and food stay in the stomach.
In patients with acid reflux, the valve opens inappropriately, allowing the acid to damage the lining of the esophagus.
When reflux is untreated or undertreated,
it can lead to Barrett's esophagus
(a precancerous condition) or
Copyright © 2013 Beaumont Health System. All Rights Reserved.