Aging & Acid Reflux

Did you know that people 60 years or older are less likely to report heartburn pain but are more likely to suffer from complications of acid reflux disease like erosive
esophagitis (EE) and Barrett’s esophagus (BE)?

EE occurs when stomach acid causes breaks to develop in the protective lining of the esophagus (the tube that connects the throat to the stomach). It can lead to chronic scarring, bleeding, and even ulcers. BE occurs when the esophagus develops an abnormal lining to protect itself from harsh stomach acid.

The risk of developing EE and BE increases with age for many reasons:

  • The esophagus may become less sensitive over time.
  • Older people have been exposed to harsh digestive acid for more years than young people have
  • As people get older, stomach glands produce less of the juices that protect the body from harsh digestive acid.
  • It takes older people more time to digest foods and drinks, so digestive acids stay in the stomach longer, increasing the risk of damage.
  • Many older people take medicines such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which can lead to gastrointestinal damage. In addition, other medications may make it harder for the body to keep digestive acids in the stomach and out of the esophagus.

The treatment for acid reflux disease is generally the same for older and younger people. If you are age 60 or older and have been diagnosed with acid reflux disease, talk to your health care provider.

Did you know that tight pants can squeeze more than just your waistline?

Wearing clothes that fit too snugly around your waist can actually push the contents of your stomach up into your esophagus. This is sure-fire way to irritate the esophagus and spark the heartburn pain associated with acid reflux disease.

Next time heartburn strikes after you eat pay attention to what’s around your waist. If your clothes feel a little too tight, don’t be afraid to loosen your belt or unbutton your pants. It can help stop the heartburn.

What’s the difference between heartburn, acid reflux disease, and gastroesophageal reflux disease?

Heartburn is a sharp burning pain that rises from the stomach into the chest. Most adults experience heartburn every once in a while, usually after eating spicy and acidic foods. This occasional heartburn is not serious, and over-the counter medicines such as antacids typically work well to stop the heartburn.

Acid Reflux disease and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) both refer to a more serious medical condition that often feels like heartburn but can damage the esophagus. IF you have this disorder, your lower esophageal sphincter- the valve that opens to allow food to pass into your stomach- does not work properly. This means that your body has trouble keeping digestive acid in the stomach and out of the esophagus. Once in the esophagus, digestive acids can eat away at the lining of the esophagus and cause damage and pain.

Acid reflux disease can only be diagnosed by a healthcare provider. Fortunately, prescription medicines are available to help control the uncomfortable symptoms and heal the digestive system. If you suffer from persistent heartburn more than 2 days a week and over-the-counter medicines aren’t relieving the burn, talk to your healthcare provider.

It’s common for heartburn to strike at night because lying down puts extra pressure on the esophagus and makes it harder for acid to flow down the stomach. The longer the acid stays in the esophagus, the more damage it can cause. In fact, studies show that people who suffer from nighttime heartburn are 11 times more likely to develop serious medical complications than daytime heartburn sufferers.

If the burn haunts you at least 1 night a week, try making some changes to your evening routine:

  • Don’t snack and nap. Try not to eat or drink anything for at least 3 hours before you lie down. This will help reduce the amount of acid in your stomach
  • Give trigger foods a rest. When eating dinner and dessert, avoid the foods and drinks that stimulate acid and trigger your heartburn. This includes spicy foods, chocolate, peppermint, and alcohol.
  • Elevate your head. Raise the head of your bed about 4 to 6 inches with a wedge pillow. This will help keep acid flowing down the esophagus and into the stomach.
  • Sleep on your side. Lie on your left when sleeping. Studies show this could help you feel and sleep better. If these simple lifestyle changes aren’t enough to keep your nighttime heartburn away, talk to your health care provider immediately. He or she can prescribe medicines that can help get the acid out of your esophagus and the burn of your bed.