Common, early reflux symptoms are frequent heartburn with a burning sensation behind the breastbone. More advanced symptoms become more complex and indicate extensive damage to the lining of the esophagus.
Reflux (gastroesophageal reflux) occurs when stomach contents (acid, enzymes) enter the esophagus. This occurs due to poor function of the muscular sphincter which connects the esophagus and the stomach.
The sphincter’s role is to allow food and liquid to pass from the esophagus to the stomach while preventing stomach contents from passing back into the esophagus.
With chronic, repeated occurrence the esophagus usually becomes inflamed and may become extensively damaged.
- heartburn (sometimes extending as high as the neck and face)
- vomiting of blood
- blood in stool
- pain behind the breastbone
- difficulty swallowing foods
- difficulty breathing
- sore throat
- hoarse voice
- excessive salivation
- sense of a lump in the throat
- sinus inflammation
Diagnosis is typically through several different methods. Imaging with an endoscope or with x-rays is common. A direct test of the performance of the muscular sphincter or a test of the acidity levels within the esophagus over time are also used.
Treatment is typically with the introduction of several lifestyle changes such as sleeping in a more inclined position, stopping smoking, as well as avoiding certain foods, drugs, and drinks which are known to increase the frequency of acid reflux.
Antacids can be used to relieve the painful symptoms of acid within the esophagus.
Surgical treatment is performed typically on individuals who have not responded to the non-invasive treatments.