The word "reflux" comes from the Medieval Latin word refluxus which comes from the Latin word refluere, meaning "to flow back, to recede". If you suffer from acid reflux the acids from your stomach "flow back" into your esophagus, causing discomfort and pain - this discomfort is known as heartburn.
What is the esophagus?
In simple terms, the esophagus is the tube between the stomach and the pharynx, which is at the back of your throat. According to Medilexicon's Medical Dictionary, "the esophagus is the portion of the alimentary canal between the pharynx and stomach. It is about 25-cm long and consists of three parts: the cervical part, from the cricoid cartilage to the thoracic inlet; the thoracic part, from the thoracic inlet to the diaphragm; and the abdominal part, below the diaphragm to the cardiac opening of the stomach."
The esophageal sphincter
The esophageal sphincter lies at the junction where the stomach and the esophagus join. Your stomach produces strong acids and enzymes (gastric juices) which are used in food digestion. The inner lining of your stomach has several mechanisms to protect itself from the effect of the gastric juices on itself, but the lining of the esophagus does not. There is a valve that stops the gastric juices from going up the esophagus - it is called the lower esophageal sphincter.
When the lower esophageal sphincter becomes weakened gastric juices can seep upwards into the esophagus.
Most of us have acid reflux problems now and again. In majority of cases this is harmless. If the problem becomes persistent and goes untreated, the heartburn can develop into GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease). In chronic and severe cases the esophagus can become scarred - the patient may have difficulty swallowing, and the risk of developing cancer of the esophagus increases significantly.
What is the difference between acid reflux and heartburn?
Acid reflux is the action, while heartburn is the sensation. The pain is heartburn, while the movement of acid into the esophagus from the stomach is acid reflux.
What are the symptoms of acid reflux?
* Asthma - gastric juices seep upwards into the throat, mouth and air passages of the lungs
* Chest pain - part of the heartburn sensation
* Dental erosion
* Dysphagia - difficulty swallowing
* Heartburn - a burning feeling rising from the stomach or lower chest towards the neck
* Regurgitation - bringing food back up into the mouth .