In a State of Reflux

Is this your life?

* You have to clear your throat frequently.

* You have trouble swallowing.

* You have a sore throat often.

* You have a chronic sour taste in your mouth.

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, you might have gastroesophageal reflux disease, or acid reflux. The condition is annoying, yes, but not life-threatening. There are a number of things you can do to ease the symptoms, but understanding the problem comes first.

At both ends of the esophagus (the food-carrying tube from the stomach) are the esophageal sphincters. These muscles relax to let food pass, then tighten to keep stomach acid down. When the lower esophageal sphincter doesn't tighten enough, acid can reflux from the stomach into the esophagus. If the upper esophageal sphincter also doesn't work well, acid can travel higher and enter the throat (pharynx). In many cases, this causes throat symptoms.

Now, what can you do to help yourself? In some cases, simple lifestyle and diet changes may be all you need. They include:

* Avoid caffeine, alcohol, carbonated beverages, chocolate, acidic foods (like tomatoes) and those that are fatty or spicy.

* Elevate the head of your bed at least six inches, if possible with concrete blocks, boards or bricks under the bed frame.

* Lose weight, if you are quite overweight. (Obesity makes it harder for the lower esophageal sphincter to stay closed).

* Limit your use of aspirin and ibuprofen, which can irritate the esophagus.

* Quit smoking.

If these steps don't help, over-the-counter or prescribed drugs might. If the problem is frequent or chronic, or if over-the-counter medications don't remedy the situation, contact your doctor. Call your physician immediately if you have dramatic symptoms, such as vomiting, or if you're regurgitating blood or have severe chest pain lasting more than 15 minutes. (Note: Severe chest pain may also be a sign of heart disease or a heart attack.)

Source: StayWell Co.

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Reflux and the Throat

At each end of the esophagus, which carries food to the stomach, are the esophageal sphincters. These muscles relax to let food pass, then tighten to seal in stomach acid. When the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) doesn't tighten enough, acid can escape back into the esophagus. If the upper esophageal sphincter (UES) doesn't close properly, acid can travel high enough to damage the throat.

Pharynx

The throat connects the mouth to the larynx and the esophagus.

Larynx

Also known as the voice box, the larynx is used for speach and is involved in swallowing.

UES

A weakened upper esophageal sphincter allows stomach acid to flow into the throat, which can injure the larynx and pharynx.

Stomach acid reflux

LES

A weakened lower esophageal sphincter allows stomach acid to flow into the esophagus, causing the upper sphincter to constrict. You may feel as if you have a lump in your throat.

Esophagus

Stomach

Source: American Urological Assn.

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