Isn’t Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disorder something 40-50 year olds complain about???!!! Sadly, GERD can sometimes start early in life. In our modern society, it’s not unheard of for young adults in their early 20s to be diagnosed with reflux disease. In fact, acid reflux in children and teens is also becoming common, thanks to rising childhood obesity.
How do you come to terms with your recently diagnosed illness that means you have to become extra careful of what you eat, what you wear, when you sleep, where you travel to and much more? When GERD starts early in life, it’s normal to feel devastated. As if life wasn’t challenging enough, now you also have to figure out how to live a happy fulfilling life with the shadow of acid reflux hanging over your head? Trust us when we say this — you will get better. And we are here to help you figure out how to deal with GERD as a young adult.
Acid Reflux in teens and young adults is not commonly caused by excess stomach acid. Instead, it’s caused by transient Lower Esophageal Sphincter (LES) relaxations, which allows acid from the stomach to travel back up the esophagus and leak into the throat. The LES is a muscular valve that allows food from the esophagus into the stomach but shuts tightly after swallowing to stop stomach acid and other contents to come back up. When the LES doesn’t function properly and doesn’t close completely, acid can travel back into the esophagus, causing acid reflux or GERD.
Certain foods and activities can cause the sphincter to relax, but GERD may also be caused due to certain physical abnormalities, such as a:
However, if diagnostic tests don’t reveal any physical abnormalities causing your GERD, your lifestyle choices are probably contributing or causing acid reflux, such as:
Acid Reflux can be caused by some medications that you could be on, such as painkillers, which increase acidity in the stomach and antibiotics such as tetracycline, which can directly irritate the esophagus. Usually, overuse of counter pain medication and analgesics like ibuprofen and aspirin which are so commonly used for all kinds of aches, muscle injuries and even curing a hangover are the real culprits.
However, it may be helpful to know that some medication you may be on for other health ailments could be aggravating your GERD too. For example, some antidepressants like amitriptyline (Elavil), doxepin (Sinequan), and imipramine (Tofranil) are muscle relaxants and could cause transient LES relaxations. Asthma medication, like beta-adrenergic agonists or bronchodilators, relax the muscles controlling the airways but can also relax the LES. In fact, GERD is common in young adults who suffer from sleep-disordered breathing, respiratory symptoms, and asthma. Sedatives like diazepam (Valium) and temazepam (Restoril) may cause or worsen GERD. For some, iron and potassium supplements can also induce reflux.
It’s advisable to tell your doctor all the medications you are on so they can identify if any of these are responsible for your reflux.
As a young adult with an active social life, it’s common to meet up with friends for drinks. But are you drinking too much, too often? Studies have linked GERD to excessive alcohol consumption. While an occasional glass of wine or a pint of beer is nothing to be worried about, consider yourself warned if you’ve regularly been hitting happy hours at local bars with your friends to get drunk, especially if you smoke too. And if you’re taking ibuprofen to treat your hangover the next morning, that’s probably an additional factor aggravating your reflux.
Studies have closely linked smoking to GERD, and if you suffer from constant acid reflux, quitting is the best way to find some relief. Smoking damages the mucous membranes that protect the stomach lining from acid damage. Research has found that cigarette smoking exacerbates reflux disease by directly provoking reflux and perhaps by a long lasting reduction of lower esophageal sphincter pressure.
When I first saw Kim Kardashian promoting working out in her waist trainer, my first thought was “Now that would give me serious acid reflux!!!” Seriously guys, restrictive clothing, especially around your belly that applies constant pressure on the stomach is BAD news. Whether you are regularly wearing wear control top pants, leggings with a tight high waistband, or a body shaper to achieve an hourglass figure like your favorite model, prolonged use will lead to acid reflux. That constant pressure on the stomach WILL push acid upwards and into the esophagus. Do yourself a favor and invest in some comfortable clothing stat.
The point to note here is that excess stomach acid is rarely the problem, especially in young adults with an otherwise healthy digestive system. And this is precisely why reflux medications that suppress gastric acid production, like PPIs (Proton Pump Inhibitors) or H2RA (Histamine 2 blockers) are ineffective in resolving the problem. While these medications will decrease acid production, they do not stop reflux, which is the real problem here.
Unless your GERD is caused due to physical abnormalities that may require medication and even surgery for relief, we don’t recommend reflux medications like PPIs as the first line of treatment for acid reflux in young adults. Long-term use of PPIs will disrupt gut health by killing off healthy bacteria while at the same time encouraging bad bacterial growth in the gut and intestines. They are also linked to serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies; PPIs rob your body of . Using them long-term, which you may have to if you choose that route because your GERD diagnosis came so early in life, can also increase risk of chronic kidney disease, and a plethora of other side effects.
Since you are young, and the long-term use risks of acid reflux medications can be a serious cause for worry, making diet and lifestyle changes should be your first treatment option.
Making lifestyle changes is never easy. But the more likely you are to stick with your new lifestyle, the greater your chances for beating GERD without any medications and lasting side effects.