Acid Reflux: Causes and Treatments

July 2, 2024



Acid Reflux: Causes and Treatments

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing irritation and discomfort. This condition can lead to a variety of symptoms and, if left untreated, can result in more serious health issues. Understanding the causes and available treatments for acid reflux is essential for managing this common condition effectively.

Causes of Acid Reflux

Weak Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES)

One of the primary causes of acid reflux is a weak or malfunctioning lower esophageal sphincter (LES). The LES is a ring of muscle that acts as a valve between the esophagus and the stomach. When it functions properly, it opens to allow food into the stomach and closes to prevent acid from flowing back into the esophagus. If the LES is weak or relaxes inappropriately, acid can escape from the stomach, leading to reflux.

Hiatal Hernia

A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm into the chest cavity. This condition can weaken the LES and increase the risk of acid reflux. Hiatal hernias are more common in older adults and can contribute significantly to the frequency and severity of reflux symptoms.


Excess body weight, especially around the abdomen, can increase the pressure on the stomach and the LES, causing acid to be pushed back into the esophagus. Obesity is a significant risk factor for acid reflux and can exacerbate the symptoms.

Diet and Lifestyle

Certain foods and lifestyle choices can trigger or worsen acid reflux. Common dietary triggers include:

  • Spicy Foods: Spices can irritate the esophagus and relax the LES, increasing the likelihood of acid reflux.
  • Citrus Fruits and Juices: Citrus products are highly acidic and can trigger reflux symptoms.
  • Caffeine and Alcohol: Both can relax the LES and increase stomach acid production.
  • Fatty and Fried Foods: These foods can slow digestion and increase pressure on the LES.
  • Carbonated Beverages: These can cause bloating and increase the pressure on the LES.


Smoking weakens the LES and reduces saliva production, which helps neutralize stomach acid. It also increases stomach acid production, making reflux more likely and more severe.


Hormonal changes during pregnancy can relax the LES, and the growing uterus can put pressure on the stomach, both of which can lead to acid reflux. Many pregnant women experience acid reflux, particularly in the third trimester.

Treatments for Acid Reflux

Lifestyle Modifications

Making certain lifestyle changes can help manage and reduce acid reflux symptoms:

  • Weight Loss: Losing excess weight can reduce pressure on the stomach and LES, decreasing the likelihood of acid reflux.
  • Dietary Changes: Avoiding trigger foods, eating smaller meals, and not lying down immediately after eating can help prevent reflux.
  • Elevating the Head of the Bed: Raising the head of the bed by 6-8 inches can prevent stomach acid from flowing back into the esophagus during sleep.
  • Quitting Smoking: Smoking cessation can improve LES function and reduce acid production.


Several types of medications can help manage acid reflux:

  • Antacids: Over-the-counter antacids can neutralize stomach acid and provide quick relief for mild symptoms. However, they do not heal the esophagus or prevent future episodes.
  • H2 Receptor Blockers: These medications reduce acid production and can provide longer-lasting relief than antacids. Examples include ranitidine and famotidine.
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs): PPIs, such as omeprazole and esomeprazole, are more effective at reducing acid production and healing the esophagus. They are typically used for more severe or persistent symptoms.
  • Prokinetics: These medications help the stomach empty more quickly, reducing the amount of acid that can back up into the esophagus. Examples include metoclopramide.

Surgical Options

For those who do not respond to lifestyle changes and medications, surgical options may be considered:

  • Fundoplication: This procedure involves wrapping the top of the stomach around the LES to strengthen it and prevent reflux. It is typically done laparoscopically and can provide long-term relief.
  • LINX Device: A ring of magnetic beads is placed around the LES to strengthen it and prevent reflux. This minimally invasive procedure is effective for many patients.


Acid reflux is a common condition that can significantly impact quality of life. By understanding the causes and exploring various treatment options, individuals can manage their symptoms effectively and prevent complications. Lifestyle modifications, medications, and surgical options offer a range of solutions to help control acid reflux and improve overall health. Regular consultations with healthcare providers are essential to developing a personalized treatment plan and ensuring optimal management of the condition.