What is Acid Reflux? Understanding & Managing the Condition

Publish Date May 15, 2023 3 Minute Read
Author Tracey Shaffer, RDN, LD, NBC-HWC

What is Acid Reflux?

Have you ever felt an uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest or throat after eating? If so, you might have experienced acid reflux. Acid reflux is a condition that causes stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus, the muscular tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. Typically, a muscle at the bottom of the esophagus, called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), prevents stomach acid from rising into the esophagus. When the LES doesn’t close properly, stomach acid can leak through and irritate the lining of the sensitive esophageal tissue. This causes the burning sensation you may feel after eating. When acid reflux symptoms occur chronically, it’s known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Acid reflux is a common condition and affects people of all ages, but understanding common triggers can help you manage its symptoms.

What Causes Acid Reflux?

There are many factors that can play a role in LES function, including:

  • Consuming food too quickly
  • Eating spicy or fatty foods
  • Drinking carbonated or caffeinated beverages
  • Carrying excess body weight
  • Pregnancy
  • Hiatal hernia (a condition that occurs when part of the stomach pushes up through the diaphragm)
  • The use of certain medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen
  • Smoking

What Are the Symptoms of Acid Reflux?

Acid reflux may cause a few different symptoms, including:

  • A burning sensation in your chest or throat, often called heartburn
  • The feeling of having a “lump in your throat”
  • Feeling like you need to clear your throat often
  • A cough
  • Nausea or difficulty swallowing

How to Manage Acid Reflux

If you have acid reflux, here are some things you can do to help manage your symptoms:

  • Eat smaller meals more often, instead of 3 big meals per day.
  • Avoid eating right before bedtime or lying down less than 3 hours after eating.
  • Eat in a calm, relaxed environment, and eat while seated.
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Chew your food slowly and thoroughly before swallowing.
  • Keep a food diary to help identify trigger foods and be mindful of intake.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes, especially around your waist.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Stay active.
  • Sleep with your head elevated.

Certain foods and beverages can trigger or worsen acid reflux symptoms, but making dietary changes can help manage the condition. Please note that dietary triggers can vary greatly from person to person. You may find that you can tolerate some of the triggers listed below but not others, or that an item not listed below triggers your symptoms. Common triggers include:

  • Chocolate
  • Spicy foods
  • High-fat foods and dairy
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Caffeinated beverages
  • Decaffeinated coffee and decaffeinated tea
  • Peppermint or spearmint
  • Alcohol

In some cases, your doctor may recommend acid reflux medication to help reduce the amount of acid in your stomach or to help the LES to close properly. Talk with your doctor about any concerns.

Acid reflux is a common condition that can be caused by many factors. By making some simple lifestyle changes, you can help manage your symptoms and feel better. Schedule an appointment with a Kroger Health dietitian to learn strategies for managing your acid reflux symptoms. Explore more health tips and topics.

Disclaimer: This information is educational only and is not meant to provide healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.