How much acid is swooshing around in your stomach? If you have heartburn, chances are the answer to that question is "too much"!
Indeed, excess acidity in the gastric juices churning in your stomach can contribute to the discomfort of heartburn, the sensation primarily arising from acid splashing back into the esophagus from your stomach. In addition to being uncomfortable and irritating for the person experiencing it, this "acid reflux" can also cause more serious issues, such as erosions in the esophagus or ulcers.
To understand precisely what's going on with the acid in your stomach, you can refer to the pH scale, which measures acidity levels using a scale of 0 to 14. An important point to remember is that pH measurements and acid levels have an inverse relationship. In other words, the lower the level of acidity, the higher the pH measurement and vice versa. A level of 7 is neutral; things that measure above 7 are called "bases," and can also be corrosive.
Normally, your esophagus has a higher pH than the stomach. This makes sense because normally there is no acid in the esophagus. The lining of the stomach is capable of tolerating an acidic environment. But the esophagus is not so hardy.
When the esophagus comes into contact with stomach acid and other stomach contents, it becomes irritated and, in some people, it can become damaged and inflamed. People can feel chest pain, difficulty swallowing, tightness in the throat, and other symptoms.
So how do you stop this before it becomes a problem?
Doctors commonly recommend that heartburn sufferers take medications to boost the pH levels in the stomach, so that the acid is being suppressed.
Once the pH is at that higher point, even if acid reflux happens again, when the stomach fluids enter the esophagus, they likely won't bother the person because they aren't as acidic.
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