Gastroesophageal Reflux – Heartburn: Causes, Food, Healthy Habits and Treatment

Gastroesophageal reflux causes a burning sensation in the lower part of the esophagus.

It is the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach. Reflux occurs when gastric fluids (gastric acid and digestive enzymes) go back up into the esophagus.

The role of the muscle (sphincter) that separates the esophagus from the stomach makes it impossible for stomach fluids to back up into the esophagus.

When the sphincter relaxes, the gastric secretions can go into the esophagus, while the stomach has a barrier in the mucosa designed to resist acid secretion. The esophagus mucosa is more fragile and easily irritated by contact with these secretions. This irritation is responsible for heartburn.

When the reflux occurs, symptoms such as pain or discomfort in the stomach or chest, heartburn, nausea, cough, and hoarse voice may appear.

What causes gastroesophageal reflux?

Certain medical conditions, such as pregnancy or hiatus hernia, make it easier to reflux because they induce additional pressure on the stomach.

A hiatal hernia is an anatomical anomaly characterized by protruding a part of the stomach in the thorax through the diaphragm.


This disorder, still poorly explained, can be caused by a congenital malformation of the diaphragm, a trauma, or an increase in abdominal pressure, particularly by obesity, pregnancy, or chronic constipation, which is usually asymptomatic but can sometimes aggravate Gastroesophageal reflux and result in inflammation of the esophagus (esophagitis).

Foods or nutrients that should be avoided:

  • Alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages
  • Caffeine (chocolate, tea, coffee, cola).
  • Mint.
  • The high content of fats or spicy foods.
  • Citrus (orange, grapefruit) and tomato juice.

Habits or changes in lifestyle to control heartburn:

  • Give up smoking.
  • Try to eat and drink more slowly.
  • Eat smaller, well-balanced meals.
  • Try to sleep on the left side, with the head raised by 15 cm.
  • Avoid clothes too tight.
  • Do not lie down after a meal.
  • Do not eat very cold or scorching foods.
  • Avoid strenuous workouts after a meal.
  • Try to lose those extra kilos.
  • Try to reduce your stress level and promote relaxation.
  • Certain medications can delay the emptying of stomach acid content or even cause reflux.
  • Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you take medicines or herbal products.

Treatment of gastroesophageal reflux

There are four types of medications used to treat reflux problems:

  • Antacids neutralize gastric acidity temporarily.
  • Alginic acid forms a foam barrier in the stomach that prevents the stomach’s contents from going into the esophagus.
  • With medications that accelerate digestion, food and gastric acids reach the intestine more quickly.
  • Medicines that reduce the production of acid in the stomach.
  • Antacids, alginic acid, and certain medications are available without a prescription, but other more potent drugs require medical supervision.

Each treatment must be adapted to the patient’s needs, especially since numerous causes of reflux and people often react differently to medications.

To maximize the effectiveness of your treatment, medications must be taken in a specific way and at specific times, even those that are available without a prescription. Do not hesitate to consult your pharmacist, the most knowledgeable health professional regarding medications.

In the case of severe esophagus lesions or drug intolerance, a surgical operation can be performed under general anesthesia, which involves folding the upper part of the stomach to form a cuff around the lower end of the esophagus.

The operation can cause difficulty swallowing and a feeling of distension in the stomach. In 85% of cases, gastroesophageal reflux is wholly eliminated.

You should seek medical attention if:

  • Your symptoms impair your daily activities or occur more than three times a week;
  • Lifestyle modifications do not improve your symptoms
  • Medications taken regularly for up to 2 to 4 weeks do not relieve symptoms.
  • Persistent digestive problems that appear for the first time after 50 years.
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chest pain extends to the back, neck, jaw, shoulder, and left arm.
  • Pain or difficulty swallowing
  • Persistent pain after meals and during the night.
  • Vomiting is severe or prolonged.
  • Black stools or vomiting with blood.
  • There is no pain relief when you take a medication used to bring relief.
  • Glaucoma.