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A Real Pain in the Gut

What exactly does the body go through during acid reflux? Find out on A Moment of Science.

You may have felt it yourself after eating: a strange, gnawing ache in your stomach; coughing or wheezing or post-nasal drip; a burning sensation when you lie down; maybe scary pains in your chest that make you think you’re having a heart attack.

Well, if your doctor has checked you out and your heart isn’t the issue, you could be suffering from GERD, or what’s commonly called “acid reflux.” And “suffering” is the right word; reflux is a drag. At least you’re in a good crowd, though. Studies show that more than one hundred million people in America alone have this same problem.

What’s going on? When you eat that slice of chocolate pie, it travels down your esophagus and is sent into your stomach. There’s a circular band of muscle between the esophagus and the stomach called the “LES,” or lower esophogeal sphincter. It’s supposed to close after you eat, keeping pie inside, but sometimes it leaks. “Reflux” means that stomach acid is coming back up into your esophagus, and for some folks, even up into your mouth!

We do know that stress makes the situation worse; it makes you produce more acid. Fatty foods make the LES slippery, as does eating a lot at once, which puts pressure on the LES. Also, just lying down after eating makes acid more likely to spill back up the system.

But a lot more remains to be learned about GERD. Reflux is a pain, but it can be helped by medications and lifestyle changes. If you’re popping antacids all day, get it checked out. You may be number one hundred million and one.

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