Women are likely to have their first encounter with acid reflux disease when they are pregnant. It is estimated that 20 percent of females experience indigestion during the first three months of pregnancy. That number jumps to 40 percent for the next trimester and 70 percent for the final three months. The heartburn may be the result of increased hormone levels or increased pressure in the stomach area caused by a developing embryo. Usually the heartburn symptoms disappear once the baby is born.
Some doctors believe a hiatal hernia may weaken the LES and increase the risk for gastroesophageal reflux. Hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach moves up into the chest through a small opening in the diaphragm (diaphragmatic hiatus). The diaphragm is the muscle separating the abdomen from the chest. Recent studies show that the opening in the diaphragm helps support the lower end of the esophagus. Many people with a hiatal hernia will not have problems with heartburn or reflux. But having a hiatal hernia may allow stomach contents to reflux more easily into the esophagus.
Some 3 million cases of GERD are being treated each year in the United States, with some cases now starting to develop in patients younger than ever. Teenagers are starting to pour into GI physician offices complaining of acid reflux disease. Some experts believe this is due to the generation of kids now having lived on poor diets next for most of their lives. Gone are the days for most families of having one parent at home during the day and coming home to a well prepared, healthy dinner. Kids are now having to face adult health challenges like this as a result of living off of sugary sodas that are acidic, and various foods that are not nutritious for them.
Many women experience heartburn or acid reflux for the first time during pregnancy. On the other hand, those who already have this health problem observe that the symptoms worsen when they get pregnant. Acid reflux disease or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is usually caused when the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) weakens or fails to function properly. LES is a valve-like opening that separates the esophagus from the stomach, and helps to keep the content of the stomach from flowing back to the esophagus. However, when this valve fails to function properly, stomach acids and foods can regurgitate into the esophagus. The esophagus unlike the stomach does not have any mucus lining to protect it from the stomach acids. As a result, when stomach acids enter the esophagus, one can feel a burning sensation at the back of the throat and the chest. Apart from the burning sensation, GERD can produce several other symptoms.
Physicians usually recommend dietary and lifestyle modifications to treat reflux disease before prescribing medications. All medications are not safe to be used during maternity. Therefore, pregnant women should always talk to their physician before taking any heartburn medications. Medications that are usually considered safe during pregnancy are some antacids like Mylanta and Maalox, and H2 blockers such as Zantac, Pepcid, and Tagamet. Proton pump inhibitors are prescribed only severe cases. The proton pump inhibitors that are usually recommended for pregnant women are Nexium, Aciphex, and Prevacid.