What Acid Reflux Does - dummies

By Patricia Raymond, Michelle Beaver

Acid reflux is a digestive disorder that involves the esophagus and stomach. When you eat or drink, the contents travel down your esophagus and into your stomach. At the entrance to your stomach is a ring of muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).

The LES is essentially a valve for the stomach. It relaxes to allow food or fluid to pass into the stomach and then tightens to prevent stomach contents from escaping up the esophagus.

When you have acid reflux, that usually means your LES is not functioning properly. When the LES is functioning normally, it closes after food or fluid passes. For people with acid reflux, this normal function is prevented.

In some cases, this is a result of the muscles being weakened. In other cases, it’s because of changes in abdominal pressure, especially in the stomach. Other times, the LES malfunctions and begins opening and closing itself. Regardless of the cause, the malfunction allows for your stomach contents, including stomach acid, to flow back into the esophagus.

The esophagus is above the stomach, so from a gravitational standpoint, it doesn’t seem logical, even with a malfunctioning LES, that anything from the stomach would move back up. This just goes to show the power of what’s going on in the stomach.

The stomach functions like a washing machine — it’s powerful. That’s why you hear so much noise if you’ve ever had your ear near someone’s stomach after a meal. When you combine churning stomach acid with a malfunctioning LES, a little reflux is inevitable, despite gravity.

A symptom of acid reflux, besides heartburn, is dyspepsia (stomach discomfort, usually of the upper abdomen). Heartburn can also create a feeling of fullness or bloating, burping, and nausea, usually after eating.

This can lead to regurgitation, which is another common acid reflux symptom. Regurgitation occurs when the stomach’s contents, including stomach acid, back up into the throat or mouth. Often, this results in a sour or bitter taste. In severe cases, regurgitation will cause vomiting.

Although regurgitation is the most common symptom, several other symptoms could be due to acid reflux. These include

  • Asthma

  • Chest pain

  • Cough

  • Dental erosion

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Excess saliva

  • Hoarseness

  • Sore throat