Acid reflux is commonly referred to as heartburn, but it has nothing to do with the heart. Acid reflux happens when the gastroesophageal sphincter muscle fails to protect the esophagus from hydrochloric acid. Hydrochloric acid in and of itself is not a bad thing. It breaks down bacteria and other pathogens in the stomach. Nature has provided the stomach with a lining to protect it from any adverse effects. When acid leaks into the esophagus, the uncomfortable feeling commonly known as heartburn develops.
Most of us get occasional acid reflux or heartburn, but if it occurs more than twice a week, it is considered chronic and referred to as GERD or gastroesophageal reflux disease.
Symptoms of Acid Reflux and GERD
- The initial symptom of acid reflux is indigestion and pain behind the breastbone.
Those with chronic acid reflux or GERD may also experience some of the following symptoms:
- A dry persistent cough
- Asthma and chronic pneumonia
- Throat problems
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dental problems, including erosion and bad breath
- Back pain
Are Acid Reflux and Back Pain Related?
Of course, there are many reasons and causes of back pain. It may be that upper back pain, chest pain, middle back pain or lower back pain is related to GERD. However, other possibilities causing the back pain should also be explored.
If you are experiencing back pain or discomfort throughout the body that seems to be related to acid reflux or GERD, this should be noted and reported to your doctor.
Can Acid Reflux Cause Back Pain?
The answer is yes, acid reflux or GERD can cause back pain, both directly and indirectly. Hydrochloric acid stimulates and damages nerve fibers which can cause pain throughout the upper body including chest pain, upper back pain, shoulder pain and pain between shoulder blades.
This type of pain can last for hours with debilitating severity. Chronic episodes of this chest and upper back pain may result in permanent problems such as soft tissue damage.
Additionally, people who suffer from acid reflux will often sleep with their head elevated to avoid the hydrochloric acid emptying into the esophagus. Though this elevated position may help with the heartburn and digestion symptoms, it can all raise havoc on your back. The upper back, middle back, and lower back can all potentially be affected by these altered sleeping positions.
Causes and Risk Factors of Acid Reflux or GERD
An isolated or occasional episode of acid reflux in which the primary symptoms are indigestion and gas may simply be due to certain foods or eating too quickly.
Chronic acid reflux or GERD may be brought on or made worse by the following risk factors:
- Low fiber intake
- Not enough exercise or activity
Prevention and Treatment
Acid reflux and GERD may have a genetic component. This genetic component has to do with physical or structural problems with the stomach and esophagus. Genetics most often come into play with severe cases of GERD, which may even be a precursor to esophageal cancer.
More often, however, acid reflux or GERD is caused poor eating habits and other lifestyle choices. Whether nature or nurture is to blame for the unpleasant symptoms, there are both over-the-counter and prescription medications available.
So many people suffer from various degrees of acid reflux that medications which were once prescription-only, now have an OTC option. These drugs are widely advertised and include such products as Tums, Zantac, Pepcid AC, and Tagamet.
If an individual has severe acid reflux or GERD, typically a physician will diagnose the condition with a PH test of the esophagus. Often Histamine-2 blockers are prescribed, which are stronger versions of such products as Zantac and Tagamet. These prescription strength medications do come with a longer list of side-effects, so the symptoms need to be severe to warrant the prescription.
There are also home remedies which may offer some relief such as drinking milk thistle tea or taking Melatonin. There are also herbal formulations on the market which contain a blend of mostly calming herbs such as lemon balm and chamomile. It should be noted that herbs can be potent medicine. If taking other medications, one should check with a physician for contraindications.
There are also other measures to be taken to prevent or reduce the symptoms of acid reflux.
- Eat a low-fat, high protein diet.
- Don’t over eat.
- Don’t eat two hours before bedtime.
- Elevate your feet at night with a pillow.
- Don’t wear tight clothing.
• Avoid food triggers. Triggers may be different for everyone, but some of the more common triggers include:
- Carbonated beverages
- Onion or garlic
Acid reflux and GERD are very real and potentially dangerous conditions. At the very least they can be unpleasant. Back pain as a result of GERD can have a major adverse effect on quality of life. If medication or lifestyle changes are not producing sufficient relief, it is time to consult a doctor or healthcare professional.