Medically reviewed by Onikepe Adegbola, MD, PhD
Acid reflux is a condition wherein there’s a backward flow of stomach acid into the food pipe (esophagus.) The esophagus connects your mouth to your stomach. Acid reflux is also known as Gastroesophageal Reflux (GER.) It leads to symptoms such as a burning sensation in your upper stomach (heartburn).
Heartburn might also feel like a burning sensation in your chest or throat. You also might find it difficult to swallow. You might experience a bitter, hot, acidic, or salty taste in the back of your throat. You might also feel pain in your chest when you lie down or bend over due to acid reflux.
Untreated acid reflux could progress to a condition known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD.) The symptoms of GERD are heartburn two or more times a week, backflow (regurgitation) of sour liquid or food in the esophagus, chest pain, coughing, wheezing, or difficulty swallowing.
How long acid reflux takes to heal depends on the condition, according to expert Dr. Poonam Sachdev. For some, the symptoms could last for only a few minutes, whereas for others, they could last for several hours. About 20 to 25% of Americans experience acid reflux symptoms once a week states an article titled “Gastroesophageal reflux disease: A review of surgical decision making.”
The symptoms are common in pregnant women too. But, acid reflux symptoms might disappear soon after pregnancy.
If your symptoms are mild, you can get better with a few diet and lifestyle modifications, says Dr. Purna Kashyap. If needed, you could use over-the-counter (OTC) medicines, such as antacids, proton pump inhibitors, prokinetic agents, or histamine blockers.
If you have GERD, your signs and symptoms worsen. If you experience the symptoms of heartburn more than two times a week for extended periods, meet your doctor for a diagnosis. X-ray, endoscopy, ambulatory acid probe test, etc., are some of the tests that help in diagnosing GERD.
Early intervention prevents the worsening of the condition and helps you recover soon. GERD might need different types of treatment, such as surgery.
Here are a few ways to treat acid reflux. The answer to the question, “how long does acid reflux take to heal” depends on the severity of the condition and the treatment options you choose, which may include
- Lifestyle changes
- Endoscopy (surgery)
If you recognize the symptoms of acid reflux early, diet and lifestyle changes can help relieve the symptoms. They also prevent the symptoms from getting worse.
Avoid alcohol and any beverage containing caffeine. They increase acidity and also affect the movement of muscles in your digestive system. Thereby, they increase the symptoms of acid reflux.
Avoid fatty foods, peppermint, and heavy meals. They increase the symptoms of acid reflux by opening up the muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), located where the esophagus meets the stomach.
Usually, the LES opens only to let food in, and the rest of the time, it stays tightly closed. If the LES opens too often or doesn’t close tightly enough, stomach acid leaks back into the esophagus.
Opt for several mini-meals instead of one big meal. Big meals could open up the LES. Certain foods might act as triggers, especially onion, garlic, or citrus foods. Avoiding such trigger foods can help prevent the symptoms of acid reflux.
Avoid eating anything till the symptoms of acid reflux pass.
Acid reflux is common in pregnancy as the condition puts pressure on the LES. It might start at the end of the first trimester, and the symptoms might increase as the fetus grows. However, the symptoms usually go away after the baby is delivered. While you are pregnant, your doctor might advise certain lifestyle changes and safe medicines to deal with the symptoms.
Losing some weight and maintaining an ideal weight also help fight acid reflux symptoms. If you are overweight or obese, it puts a strain on the LES and opens the valve.
Also, one should stop smoking. Smoking increases stomach acid production. It also relaxes the LES, leading to acid reflux.
Do not go to bed immediately after a meal. Wait for at least two hours. Walk after meals; it helps in digestion and prevents acid reflux symptoms. While sleeping, keep your upper body elevated to prevent acid reflux.
Prefer wearing loose clothing, especially around the waist. Tight clothing puts pressure on the LES.
Medicines that aid relieves the symptoms of acid reflux are antacids, proton pump inhibitors, prokinetic agents, or histamine blockers. Many times, these OTC medicines can help relieve the symptoms of acid reflux.
Usually, lifestyle modifications and medicines help you deal with acid reflux. If they aren’t helping, your doctor might advise detailed diagnosis and treatment.
Your doctor diagnoses GERD based on a physical examination, clinical symptoms, and other diagnostic procedures. Upper endoscopy (with a tube that has light and camera), X-ray, esophageal manometry (measures muscle contractions of the esophagus), and ambulatory acid pH probe test (with the help of a monitor and computer to measure pH or acidity levels) are some of the diagnostic tests involved, states an article published in The World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pharmacology and Therapeutics.
Nissen fundoplication is one of the endoscopies for treating GERD/acid reflux. Here, your doctor wraps the top part of your stomach around the lower part of the esophagus/food pipe. This procedure creates a tightening muscle (sphincter) at the bottom of the esophagus. It increases the antireflux barrier, and there is a significant reduction in acid reflux symptoms after the surgery.
Diet and lifestyle changes usually yield good results. If you suffer from minor acid reflux symptoms, you might take less than a month to heal. If your acid reflux is moderately severe, you might need six to 12 weeks of treatment.
Some patients might not show any improvement with the combination of diet and lifestyle changes and require surgery to get better. A few people might straightaway opt for the surgery instead of trying and waiting for the results of the other treatment options.
“How long does acid reflux take to heal” depends on your health condition. If your acid reflux symptoms are minor, they heal with a few diets and lifestyle modifications. Avoiding caffeine and alcohol, avoiding overeating, and maintaining a healthy weight are some of them.
Over-the-counter medicines, such as antacids, could help too. If you are experiencing acid reflux symptoms, such as heartburn, more than two times a week, and they last for a long time, it may require further diagnosis.
If GERD is diagnosed and your symptoms are not improving with diet, lifestyle changes, and medicines, surgery is helpful. Talk to your doctor to know more.
Moore, M. (2016). Gastroesophageal reflux disease: A review of Surgical Decision making. World Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery, 8(1), 77. https://doi.org/10.4240/wjgs.v8.i1.77
Badillo, R., & Francis, D. (2014, August 6). Diagnosis and treatment of gastroesophageal reflux disease. World Journal of Gastrointestinal Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Retrieved June 4, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4133436/#:~:text=The%20diagnosis%20of%20GERD%20is,endoscopy%20and%20esophageal%20pH%20monitoring.
Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, September 16). Acid reflux and GERD: The same thing? Mayo Clinic. Retrieved June 4, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/expert-answers/heartburn-gerd/faq-20057894#:~:text=Acid%20reflux%2C%20also%20known%20as,in%20your%20chest%20(heartburn).
Nissen fundoplication: What is it, procedure details & recovery. Cleveland Clinic. (n.d.). Retrieved June 4, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/4200-nissen-fundoplication#:~:text=A%20Nissen%20fundoplication%20is%20a,reflux%20symptoms%20after%20the%20surgery.
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