One magical function of our body is that it has its biological clock inside. During breakfast time, our biological clock reminds the stomach to produce more acid if we had breakfast so that digestion happens smoothly. However, in the absence of breakfast, the acid is retained in the stomach. With the loosened lower oesophageal sphincter, the reflux of gastric juice from your stomach up to your throat could happen.
Here comes the root of the problem: the reason why the lower oesophageal sphincter is loosened.
Increased intra-abdominal pressure
Pregnancy and obesity increase the pressure in the abdomen, forcing the gastric juice up to a lower pressure region in the esophagus.
Certain foods will cause the lower oesophageal sphincter to relax, such as excessive consumption of coffee, alcohol, chocolate, tea, and dietary fat. The foods that trigger symptoms vary widely among affected individuals.
Delayed gastric emptying time
It is the lengthening of the period where food moves from the stomach to the intestine. Diabetes is the most common cause. Fatty food and carb-rich food may cause symptoms of dyspepsia, the difficulty indigestion.
Nicotine found in tobacco has the effect of relaxing the muscles around the lower oesophageal sphincter, thus loosening the ring and increasing the possibility of gastric juice reflux.
It is the protrusion of part of the stomach through the diaphragm into part of the chest cavity. This is thought to cause reflux because the pressure gradient, which usually pinches the hiatus, is lost.
Long-term effect of GERD/heartburn
Frequent irritation of the esophagus by the gastric juice can cause inflammation of the esophagus. Individuals might suffer from difficulty or pain during swallowing, lack of appetite, sore throat, hoarse voice, and chest pain, which worsens with eating. In more severe cases, esophagitis may cause ulcer and bleeding and eventually scarring, which narrows the track diameter.
- Barrett’s esophagus
It is a pre-malignant condition where there is a transformation of the cells lining the esophagus after long term wash up by the gastric juice. This is an adaptive response of our body and is more commonly seen in men (primarily white), the obese, and those over 50 years of age.
- Oesophageal cancer
The gold standard of investigation is endoscopy. This is performed to rule out other diseases and to identify complications. A flexible tube with a light and a camera will be inserted into the stomach through the mouth and esophagus. The view will be projected on a screen for better observation.
24-hour pH monitoring is indicated if the diagnosis is unclear. It also involves a tube passing through the esophagus into the stomach, and a monitor attached to the machine will function to detect the change in pH. A pH of less than 4 for more than 6-7% of the study time is diagnostic of reflux disease.
A barium swallow is an X-ray imaging test that captures the image of the structures when the person in swallowing liquid barium.
A measure for every scenario
I don’t have time to visit the doctor!
Most people with reflux disease do not consult a doctor and do not need to do so. There are a few over-the-counter treatments for heartburn and regurgitation, such as antacids, H2 blockers, and proton pump inhibitors (PPI).
I shall skip my breakfast and lunch, for I need to lose some weight!
Some may think skipping meals would be the best option to lose weight, but, no, this will only bring more harm and complications! You might not notice this, but skipping meals makes you prone to overeat later, and a full stomach can aggravate the symptoms too.
I can’t live without coffee!
A coffee a day is of no harm. The same goes for alcohol and tea. Not too much.
I have reflux when I sleep at night.
Individuals can also try to have a modest degree of head-up tilt of the bed while sleeping. Avoidance of large meals late at night can be useful too.
My symptoms are getting out of control.
Consultation and surgery are usually only needed when the symptoms become severe, and when the medicines do not affect anymore.
“I know for sure that taking care of your body, no matter what, is an investment, and the return is priceless.” – Oprah Winfrey
So what do you do – skip breakfast or eat it religiously every single day? Do let us know!