Stomach acid is one of the most important elements of our digestive system. Stomach acid is produced when you eat, by cells in the lining of the stomach. The acid is made up of hydrochloric acid, potassium, and sodium. Other cells in the stomach produce bicarbonate to help to control the acidity, and mucus, to protect the stomach lining.
- 1 What does stomach acid do?
- 1.1 When things go wrong
- 1.2 What causes GERD?
- 1.3 Risk factors for GERD
- 1.4 The symptoms of GERD
- 1.5 How is GERD diagnosed?
- 1.6 Diet and lifestyle changes
- 1.7 Can medication treat acid reflux?
- 1.8 Does the condition ever require surgery?
- 1.9 Hiatal hernia
- 1.10 Causes of a hiatal hernia
- 1.11 Types of hiatal hernia
- 1.12 Treating a hiatal hernia
- 2 Home remedies for hiatal hernia
What does stomach acid do?
When food reaches the stomach, the acid breaks down protein, vitamins, and minerals, so they can be more easily absorbed. It also kills potentially harmful bacteria.
When things go wrong
There is a valve at the entrance of your stomach which is made of a ring of muscle. The valve usually closes when food has passed through it. If the valve does not close all of the way, or if it open when it isn’t supposed to, stomach acid can move into your oesophagus. This can cause heartburn and other symptoms. If this acid reflux occurs often, you will most likely be diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
What causes GERD?
One common cause of acid reflux disease is an abnormality on the stomach called a hiatal hernia. This happens when the upper part of the stomach and valve move above the diaphragm, which is supposed to separate your stomach from your chest. The diaphragm usually helps to keep acid in the stomach, but if you have a hernia, acid can move up into the oesophagus and cause the associated symptoms.
Risk factors for GERD
Eating large meals or lying down straight after a meal
Being overweight or obese
Eating a heavy meal and bending over
Snacking too close to bedtime
Eating certain foods which are known to irritate the stomach and increase acid production, such as citrus, tomato, chocolate, mint, garlic, onions, or spicy or fatty foods
Drinking certain beverages, such as alcohol, carbonated drinks, coffee, or tea, which do the same.
Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, certain muscle relaxers, or blood pressure medications which can cause irritation to the lining of the stomach.
The symptoms of GERD
Heartburn, which is a burning pain or discomfort that can move from your stomach to your abdomen or chest, or even up into your throat
Regurgitation, where you will notice a sour or bitter-tasting acid backing up into your throat or mouth.
Bloody or black stools or bloody vomiting.
A feeling of food being stuck in your throat
Unexplained weight loss
Wheezing, a dry cough, hoarseness, or a persistent sore throat.
How is GERD diagnosed?
If you have acid reflux symptoms more than a few times per week, and if medication doesn’t seem to help, see your doctor.
Treating the main symptoms such as heartburn is usually the way forward with GERD. Your doctor will suggest lifestyle changes, acid reducing medications and antacids to tackle this problem.
Diet and lifestyle changes
If you suffer from acid reflux, diet and lifestyle changes is usually the first thing you should try to alleviate symptoms. Here are some tips on easy changes you can make:
Eat little and often throughout the day. Heavy meals are harder to digest and cause the stomach to make more acid.
Quit smoking. Smoking weakens the valve that separates the stomach from the chest.
Raise the head of your bed at least 4 inches to 6 inches to prevent acid from flowing back up your throat
Don’t eat less than 2- 3 hours before bed.
Don’t wear tight clothes or tight belts, which can put pressure on the stomach
If you’re overweight or obese, try to lose weight with exercise and diet changes.
Speak to your doctor if you believe that a medication you are taking could be causing you to experience reflux.
Can medication treat acid reflux?
Symptoms of acid reflux can often be treated with a combination of antacids and lifestyle changes.
Antacids, such as Alka-Seltzer can neutralize the acid from your stomach. But they can cause diarrhoea or constipation, especially if you use them a lot. Try to use antacids that contain both magnesium hydroxide and aluminum hydroxide. This can help you to avoid other gastrointestinal side effects.
If antacids don’t work, your doctor may try stronger prescription medications. You might be prescribed one or more of these medicines:
Foaming agents such as Gaviscon which coats your stomach to prevent reflux.
H2 blockers such as Pepcid or Zantac which decrease acid production in your stomach
Proton pump inhibitors such as Prilosec also reduce the amount of acid your stomach makes.
Does the condition ever require surgery?
If medications don’t resolve your symptoms of acid reflux disease and the symptoms are considerably affecting your life, your doctor might recommend surgery. There are 2 types of surgical treatment which are typically used to relieve symptoms of acid reflux if medication and lifestyle changes haven’t been effective.
One procedure involves placing a ring known as a LINX device around the lower end of the oesophagus. The ring is made of magnetic titanium beads which are held together by titanium wires. The device helps to treat reflux by preventing the stomach contents from flowing back up into the oesophagus. In a study, patients who had the surgery were able to stop taking acid-reducing medicine or cut down on the amount they took.
Another surgical procedure is called fundoplication and it can also help prevent acid reflux. It creates an artificial valve using the top of your stomach. The procedure involves wrapping the upper part of the stomach around the valve to strengthen it, and prevent acid reflux. Surgeons perform this operation through an open incision in the abdomen or chest. Surgery is not a first line treatment and is usually a last resort where all other treatment options have failed.
A hiatus hernia, or hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach is pushed up into the chest through an opening in the diaphragm.
Hiatus hernia and heartburn
A hiatal hernia often doesn’t have any symptoms, however, because it causes acid reflux, this is when we tend to get it checked out.
When you experience acid reflux, stomach acid leaks into the oesophagus. The oesophagus can become irritated and damaged by the acid. This causes symptoms such as heartburn, chest pain, an unpleasant sour taste in the mouth, and problems with swallowing.
Causes of a hiatal hernia
There is no exact cause of hiatal hernias, but they are often the result of diaphragm becoming weak with age, or of excessive pressure on the abdomen.
Hiatal hernias can sometimes occur in newborn babies if the stomach or diaphragm doesn’t develop properly.
Hiatus hernia can affect anyone, but they occur more frequently in people who are over 50 years of age, overweight, or pregnant.
Types of hiatal hernia
There are two main types of hiatal hernia.
Sliding hiatus hernias which move up and down, and in and out of the chest area. These are the most common type.
Paraesophageal hiatal hernias, also called rolling hiatal hernias, occur when part of the stomach pushes up through the hole in the diaphragm next to the oesophagus. These make up around 15% of all cases.
A hiatal hernia can be definitively diagnosed using an x-ray, or by an endoscopy, where a thin fibre-optic tube with a light and camera on the end is used to examine the upper or lower intestine.
Treating a hiatal hernia
Treatment for a hiatal hernia usually focuses on relieving the symptoms of acid reflux first.
Lifestyle changes and medication are the usual first line treatments. Surgery is usually only recommended as a last resort if lifestyle changes and medications haven’t worked.
Eating smaller, frequent meals, rather than having 3 large meals each day
Avoid lying down for 2-3 hours after eating or drinking
Keep a food diary and eliminate any foods or drinks from your diet that appear to make your symptoms worse
If a hiatal hernia isn’t symptomatic, it doesn’t usually need to be treated.
Surgery is often used to repair a para-oesophageal hiatus hernia if there’s a risk of complications.
Home remedies for hiatal hernia
Warm water therapy
Drinking warm water first thing in the morning and then doing the following exercise is a good way to help move the hernia back down from the opening in the diaphragm.
Just after waking up, while you are lying in bed, drink a glass of room temperature water or slightly warm water. This will help to relax the stomach muscles and diaphragm.
Stand up, lift your arms straight out to the sides and bend your elbows so your hands touch your chest. This will help to stretch the diaphragm.
Stand on your tiptoes and drop back down onto your heels. Repeat this several times. This will help the water weight to pull the stomach down.
While standing with your arms raised, take a few short and quick breaths. This will help to tighten the diaphragm back up and close the hiatus. Avoid drinking coffee, tea, juice, or cold water while you are following this regime.
Abdominal massage will target the upper section of your abdominal cavity. It will help to reduce the discomfort and associated symptoms of the hiatal hernia. It also helps to strengthen the stomach muscles.
Lie on your back and relax
Put your fingers just below your breastbone
Massage downwards, moving towards your belly button.
Repeat this for 5 minutes.
Do this twice daily, once in the morning and once in the evening.
Yoga can also help to relieve the pain and discomfort caused by a hiatal hernia. Yoga poses like the Chair Pose can help to strengthen the diaphragm and stomach muscles.
Stand with your back straight and arms by your side. Stand with your feet hip width apart.
Raise your arms straight above your head.
Bend your body forwards and bring your chest toward your thighs. Keep your arms out straight, in line with your back, and turn your palms to face the floor.
Gently bend your knees, then keep your weight in your heels and look forward. Hold this position for a few seconds, taking several deep breaths.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together, lower your tailbone toward the floor and pull your stomach in. Hold this position for at least 30 seconds and focus on breathing normally.
Return to the starting position slowly, then repeat a few times each day.
Avoid yoga poses that are known to stress the stomach or put pressure on it, such as the cobra, bridge, or bow poses.
Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is an effective remedy for relieving the symptoms of hiatal hernia like heartburn and acidity. Though the vinegar is acidic, it acts like an alkali in the body. Try this:
Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar to a glass of warm water.
Sip it slowly before meals.
Do this whenever you have symptoms like heartburn or acidity.
Cinnamon helps to calm and soothe the stomach. It can also relieve abdominal pain and bloating, especially after eating a meal. It works like an antacid in the stomach. Try this:
Add ½ teaspoon of cinnamon powder to a cup of hot water.
Cover and allow it to brew for a few minutes.
Drink the tea while it is still warm, 2 or 3 times per day.
Include cinnamon when you are cooking, to gain the same benefits.
Chamomile is a natural anti-inflammatory and is an effective remedy for hiatal hernias. It can soothe stomach aches, treat heartburn, and relax the digestive muscles. Try this:
Mix 1 teaspoon of dried chamomile in a cup of hot water.
Cover and allow it to brew for 5 minutes.
Strain the tea and add honey, to sweeten the tea if needed.
Slowly sip the chamomile tea up to 4 times a day, especially between meals.
Baking soda is a natural antacid. It can provide relief from heartburn, which is the most common and uncomfortable symptom of hiatal hernias. Try this:
Mix ½ teaspoon of baking soda in a glass of water.
Drink it immediately.
Repeat as needed, but don’t drink this mixture to excess.
Avoid using this remedy if you have high blood pressure.
Aloe vera is one of the best natural treatments for digestive discomfort caused by a hiatal hernia. It can soothe the lining of the intestines and reduce abdomen pain. It also reduces heartburn by reducing inflammation and pressure on the stomach. Try this:
Drink ¼ cup of aloe vera juice about 20 minutes before eating a meal. Do not use more than 2 tablespoons of aloe vera gel to make the juice as it can cause diarrhoea.
This herb is an effective remedy for a hiatal hernia. It helps to reduce stomach acidity and alleviate heartburn. Slippery elm also has soothing and anti-inflammatory effects on the body in general. Try this:
Mix 1 tablespoon of powdered slippery elm bark in 1 cup of hot water.
Let it infuse for about 10 minutes.
Drink it twice a day, especially after eating meals.
Change your dietary habits
When suffering from a hiatal hernia, it is important to be mindful about your diet. The things you must do are to avoid foods that trigger or worsen your symptoms, and lose weight if you need to, as this will reduce the pressure on your stomach. You might be advised by your doctor to:
Avoid foods that are known to cause heartburn, such as chocolate, coffee, onions, garlic, spicy foods, fried foods, citrus fruits, and tomato-based foods.
Eat a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables. You can include lean meats but avoid spicy seasonings.
Eat healthy fats, such as olive oil and nuts, as they have anti-inflammatory effects on the body.
Include whole-grain foods in your diet to promote a healthy digestive system overall.
This is a digestive remedy that has been used for a long time to treat heartburn. Try this:
Infuse one teaspoon of gentian in a cup of water for 30 minutes. Sprinkle a pinch of ginger and cayenne in the tea. Drink 30 minutes before meals.
When the stomach is functioning normally, you feel healthy and energetic, and when it’s not, you feel anything but. The stomach produced acid that helps us to digest our food, absorb nutrients from it, and it also fights any potentially harmful bacteria.
When the stomach produces too much acid it can be a problem, especially if you have a problem like a hiatal hernia, which causes the stomach to protrude into the chest, allowing acid to flow up into the oesophagus. This can cause problems like heartburn, bloating, difficulty swallowing, and a bitter taste in the mouth.
Symptoms of too much acid can usually be treated by antacid medication and lifestyle changes, but where they can’t, surgery can be carried out.
Try the home remedies to help alleviate your symptoms and help your stomach to feel as good as new.