What is acid reflux anyway?

If you’re like me you may have acid reflux and not know it. Oh you know you’ve got something wrong, but not what’s causing it. And until you know what it is how can you know how to fix it? (want the shortcut to how to fix it? it’s here).

What is Acid Reflux?

In the old days it was called heartburn because some people feel a burning sensation behind their sternum (aka breastbone). Your esophagus meets your stomach at your diaphragm which separates your heart and lungs from your other organs, and all that happens at the end of your sternum. It’s got nothing to do with your heart, despite the name. (and don’t be stupid, if you’re having chest pain and you don’t know what’s causing it, see a doctor!).

There’s a sphincter there that allows food into your stomach, then closes behind it. Your stomach is, by design, very acidic. It turns that big steak into meat soup by the time it gets to the other end of your stomach. But your esophagus isn’t designed to deal with acid. It’s the job of the lower esophageal sphincter (the LES) to keep the two separated. When that sphincter isn’t doing its job acid leaks up into your esophagus and ouch!

Symptoms

People call it heartburn but not everyone has a burning sensation. I didn’t. So I didn’t think heartburn when I started having symptoms.

These days it’s called acid reflux or more technically, when it becomes a chronic condition, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Reflux sounds to me like throwing up. I didn’t feel like anything was coming back up my throat, so again I discounted acid reflux as the cause of my troubles.

In my case I couldn’t catch my breath when my heart rate got elevated (more accurately when my breathing got faster, remember that the LES is at your diaphragm). I had a persistent heaviness in my chest, like a dog was sitting on me. When lifting weights or exerting myself it sometimes felt like someone punched me right at the base of my sternum.  At one point I lost my voice for a few weeks. I could squeek for a few minutes, then I was done for (anyone who knows me knows how much THAT cramped my style!).

For 18 months I googled ‘shortness of breath’ and the like. Finally my husband noticed I coughed after I ate. “Coughing after eating” was the magical phrase that led me to hiatal hernia and then acid reflux. I felt pretty stupid for not figuring it out earlier, but then again I’d seen two internists, a cardiologist, a pulmonologist and they hadn’t figured it out either.

Hiatal Hernia

Not all reflux sufferers have a hiatal hernia, and not everyone with a hiatal hernia has reflux, but they seem to go together. They certainly do in my case. A hiatal hernia is when the top part of your stomach protrudes through the LES. That punched feeling behind my sternum when I lifted weights? Yeah. That was my stomach popping up through my LES.

Treatment

If you suffer from acid reflux and/or hiatal hernia there are very effective natural options. After 18 months of chronic breathing problems, once I figured out the root cause of my problem I felt better in 3 days. 3 days. I started eating less and eating earlier (so I had time to digest before sleeping), I stopped going upside down (think of the yoga position down dog, big no no), started sleeping on an incline, drinking slippery elm tea and chewing DGL tablets. 3 days.  More details on these natural remedies, including a very simple exercise for hiatal hernias, can be found on my blog post here. I hope you find them useful.

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