Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux or, more commonly, heartburn, is a disorder in which the acid contents of the stomach flow upward into the esophagus and cause burning sensations. The esophagus is the tube connecting the stomach and throat. Many additional symptoms can be connected with acid reflux, including jaw ache.
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Acid reflux occurs when the sphincter between the esophagus and the stomach does not work properly, explains Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. The sphincter usually stays tightly closed except when food passes from the esophagus into the stomach, but a weakened or relaxed sphincter allows acid to flow upward. Because the esophagus does not have a protective lining like the stomach does, acid flowing upward typically causes uncomfortable and even painful sensations.
The main symptom of gastroesophageal reflux is heartburn, or a burning sensation above the stomach or in the chest. Heartburn can be severe and radiate to the back, arms, neck and jaw. The symptoms can be very similar to those of a heart attack, including squeezing chest pain, according to an article published on Medicine On-Line with lead author Ravinder PS Makkar, M.D. The pain may last from minutes to hours and may even occur on and off for several days. Undiagnosed chest pain calls for medical attention to rule out cardiac causes.
Acid reflux can produce many other symptoms, explains the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. They include difficult or painful swallowing, excessive saliva production, sore throat, hoarseness, coughing and shortness of breath. An individual with acid reflux might regurgitate stomach acid into the mouth, leading to a bitter taste and bad breath.
People who are obese, have a hiatal hernia, are taking certain drugs or who are pregnant are more likely than others to experience acid reflux, according to the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Symptoms can be triggered by eating very large meals, drinking very hot or very cold beverages, eating greasy foods and lying down within three hours of eating. Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine also may be factors.
Antacids usually can resolve mild cases of acid reflux, but if you experience more significant symptoms, such as pain radiating to your jaw, you may need to take other actions. Prescription medications are available, and some diet and lifestyle changes might help, according to the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Consult with your doctor about avoiding fatty foods, coffee and alcohol, and quit smoking if you do smoke. Eat small frequent meals rather than large meals, and do not eat close to bedtime. It might help to raise the head of your bed so acid flows away from the esophagus during sleep.