As we age, our bodies undergo numerous changes, and unfortunately, some of these changes can lead to an increase in health issues. One such problem that becomes more prevalent with age is acid reflux.
Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), is a condition where stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing discomfort and a host of other symptoms.
If you’re experiencing acid reflux symptoms, board-certified otolaryngologist and acid reflux specialist Mathew W. Shawl, MD, is here to help. Located in New York City, Dr. Shawl determines if your acid reflux is damaging your larynx or pharynx and provides the most appropriate treatment.
In the meantime, understanding why acid reflux tends to worsen with age can help you better manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Reasons why acid reflux can worsen as you age
As you age, various changes occur in your digestive system that can contribute to the worsening of acid reflux symptoms. Here are some key factors:
1. Decreased muscle tone
One of the primary reasons acid reflux becomes more troublesome as you age is the natural decrease in muscle tone. The lower esophageal sphincter (LES) is a circular muscle that acts as a barrier between the stomach and the esophagus, preventing the backflow of acid.
However, with age, the LES tends to weaken, resulting in a faulty closure. As a consequence, stomach acid can easily seep into the esophagus, causing heartburn and other discomforting symptoms. Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and avoiding trigger foods can help improve muscle tone and alleviate acid reflux symptoms.
2. Slower digestion
As you grow older, your digestive system tends to slow down, leading to delayed gastric emptying. This means that food stays in the stomach for a longer duration, increasing the likelihood of acid reflux.
Furthermore, the prolonged contact between stomach acid and the esophageal lining can cause irritation and inflammation, exacerbating the symptoms. To combat this issue, it is advisable to eat smaller, more frequent meals, avoid consuming heavy or greasy foods before bed, and allow ample time for digestion before lying down.
3. Hiatal hernia
Another factor that contributes to the worsening of acid reflux with age is the development of a hiatal hernia. A hiatal hernia occurs when a portion of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm and into the chest cavity, resulting in an anatomical disruption of the LES. This displacement weakens the barrier, allowing stomach acid to flow more freely into the esophagus.
While hiatal hernias can occur at any age, they become more common as you get older. Managing acid reflux associated with hiatal hernias may involve lifestyle modifications, such as avoiding large meals, elevating the head of the bed, and taking prescribed medications to reduce stomach acid.
4. Medications and health conditions
With age, you’re more likely to develop various health conditions and take multiple medications to manage them. Certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), calcium channel blockers, and sedatives, can relax the LES or increase stomach acid production, leading to acid reflux symptoms.
Additionally, health conditions like obesity, diabetes, and respiratory disorders can exacerbate acid reflux. That’s why it’s crucial to communicate with a trusted provider about your symptoms and medications to identify potential triggers and explore alternative treatment options.
If you have more questions about how age contributes to acid reflux, Contact the office of Matthew W. Shawl, MD, to book a consultation today and get the accurate diagnosis, personalized treatment plan, and long-term relief you deserve.