About 20% of the US population suffers from GERD or Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, which in simpler terms is chronic heartburn. Heartburn occurs due to repeated reflux of the stomach acid into the esophagus (food pipe) causing pain and irritation. When you hear the word 'heartburn', you would immediately think of a burning sensation in your chest or upper abdominal area (close to where the heart is). However, as most doctors will agree, heartburn can manifest in many other ways that doesn't always make you think of acid reflux. Often this can lead you to ignore these symptoms for a while or even try to self-treat with over-the-counter medications. However, as with all symptoms, if you are only getting temporary relief, it is best to consult your doctor to figure out the underlying root cause of your discomfort. This is especially true with acid reflux symptoms to avoid severe damage to esophageal tissue which can eventually lead to esophageal cancer.
Besides the 2 classic symptoms of burning sensation and extreme pressure in chest and/or the upper abdomen, there are 8 other indicators that you may be suffering from acid reflux. If you suffer from any of these, ensure you discuss them with your doctor at the earliest!
8 signs and symptoms that may be due to acid reflux
1. Sore throat or repeated mucus in throat. When acid from the stomach irritates the tonsils and mucus membranes in the throat, it results in soreness and excessive mucus production. You may experience this as a constant need to clear your throat or constant need to sip water as a way to soothe an irritated throat.
2. Change in your voice (voice hoarseness). Acid can irritate and cause swelling of your vocal chords lead to a noticeable change in your voice. Some people notice that there voice becomes progressively hoarse or 'squeaky' as the day progresses and maybe worst at certain times of the day, example, after meals.
3. Constant sour or bitter taste in the mouth. The acid coming up into the back of your mouth can dominate and affect taste buds on your tongue leading to this symptom. This can also manifest as a general lack of interest in food and decreased appetite as 'nothing tastes good'.
4. Persistent bad breath. This can be due to various factors and main ones being that the acid kills the protective oral and throat microflora (the bacteria & other microbes that are normally present here) and regurgitation of the acid and undigested food into throat cavity.
5. Chronic dental issues including cavities and gingivitis. The acid causes enamel on the teeth to erode making your teeth prone to getting dental caries. It can also irritate the gums and due to #4, can create conditions for inflammation of the gums.
6. Trouble swallowing. This is not common but can present. Can you imagine trying to pour a liquid into a pipe that is being squeezed at the bottom? Yes, it is hard for the downward peristaltic movement (the muscular force that carries the food down the food pipe) to keep going in the same direction, if there is acid squirting up from the stomach pouch. Often this symptom may occur with chest tightness/discomfort.
7. Cough without other respiratory symptoms. If the acid constantly irritates the back of your throat and some of it may end up being aspirated into your lungs, it is likely that your throat and lungs will try to cough it out! Asthma patients often see their breathlessness increase that is, they may feel an increased need for their rescue inhaler when they are also experiencing acid reflux.
8. Nausea with or without vomiting. Typically nausea is worse before eating as this is when the acid is not mixed with food yet. This is a challenge as people often feel they cannot go long hours without eating and keep snacking through the day. Though this helps their nausea, it creates more digestive problems in the lower intestinal tract!
A proper examination and history will help your doctor determine if you need treatment for GERD. Newer studies support the idea of a multifactorial approach to treatment for sustained results rather than solely depending on Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs like Prilosec) or H2 Blockers (ex:Tagamet). In fact, recent data indicates that there maybe risks associated with long term use of acid suppressing medications due to possible depletion in nutrients and other damaging side effects.
At Core Integrative, we take your gastrointestinal health seriously! Call or request a free consult today, if you need help with your reflux or other GI symptoms.