For most people, heartburn it’s an occasional displeasure that occurs after overfilling the stomach or enjoying foods with a little too much spice. For others, it gets more severe and comes along with other symptoms associated with acid reflux. Often referred to as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, or GERD, acid reflux affects as many as 50% of infants and can occur in adulthood as well.
When you swallow food or drinks, you expect it to travel down to your stomach where your body will break it down and distribute its nutrients throughout your body. That action is controlled by your lower esophageal sphincter (LES), which is a muscle that connects the bottom of the esophagus and the stomach.
When the LES is operating efficiently, it will open as food or liquid enter the esophagus, allowing it to move into the stomach before closing again.
Acid reflux occurs when the LES relaxes or opens when it should remain shut. That allows contents of the stomach to travel back up the esophagus, causing that all too familiar burning sensation in the chest and lower throat. In some cases, stomach contents may reach the mouth and lead to vomiting.
Occasional acid reflux due to overeating or eating certain types of food isn’t a serious medical concern. When it becomes more frequent, it may receive a diagnosis of GERD. The difference is the level of severity and the way the condition is managed over time.