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.
What Causes Acid Reflux in Pregnancy?
As we know, there is a relationship between acid reflux and pregnancy. GERD can be explained by the increase in the level of hormones, estrogen and progesterone. High levels of these hormones are required to relax the smooth muscles of the uterus. However, along with uterine muscles, the hormone progesterone also relaxes the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract and reduces the muscle tone of the lower esophageal sphincter. As a result, the LES fails to prevent the backflow of the stomach acids to the esophagus.
Progesterone also slows down the peristalsis or the wavelike contractions of the esophagus, as well as the intestine. All these factors can cause reflux disease. It can worsen in the second and third trimester, as the growing baby occupies a larger part of the abdominal cavity and pushes the stomach acids back up towards the esophagus. Usually, early pregnancy acid reflux is less severe than that experienced during late pregnancy.
Symptoms of Acid Reflux in Pregnant Women
The symptoms in expectant mothers are more or less similar to those experienced by other people. Pregnant women can more commonly experience the symptoms after eating a heavy meal or while lying down on the back. Some can also experience the symptoms while bending. Here are the most common symptoms:
Heartburn can be described as a burning sensation in the middle of the chest, and is caused by the stomach acids that enter the esophagus. The esophagus does not have any protective lining and so, the acids cause irritation or the burning sensation. Along with the chest, pregnant women can feel this burning sensation in the stomach and at the back of the throat.
Regurgitation refers to the back flow of acids from the stomach to the esophagus. The stomach acids can sometimes flow back and reach the throat and the mouth, which can produce a bitter or sour taste in the mouth along with a foul smell.
Difficulty in Swallowing
Difficulty in swallowing can be termed as one of the most uncomfortable symptoms in expecting women, caused due to acids. Pregnant women can experience this symptom due to the presence of stomach acids in the esophagus and the throat.
Nausea and Vomiting
Regurgitation of stomach acids can also cause nausea and vomiting in some pregnant women. However, not all women experience these symptoms.
Sore Throat and Cough
Sore throat and cough are usually associated with severe acid reflux. The throat can feel sore and scratchy when stomach acids and undigested foods enter the throat. Sometimes, this can also lead to voice hoarseness and coughing.
Treatment of Acid Reflux During Pregnancy
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.
It is always better to manage these symptoms in women with the help of a few lifestyle and dietary changes. Pregnant women should avoid overeating or eating large meals. They should eat small, frequent meals, and drink plenty of water throughout the day. However, drinking large amount of water during meals is not recommended. They should avoid lying down immediately after eating a meal.
Certain foods such as caffeine, chocolates, citrus fruits, spicy foods, vinegar, tomatoes and tomato products, alcohol, garlic, and some spices, are considered as the triggering factors for this condition. So, women should better avoid or limit the consumption of such foods. In other words, they have to strictly follow a GERD diet.
Pregnant women should also avoid eating too much of fatty and fried foods. They can take certain natural acid reflux remedies during maternity, out of which ginger or ginger tea, milk of raw coconut, carrot juice, and almonds are worth mentioning. Even chewing a clove after meal can help to provide relief from this problem. Apart from these, women should try to sleep in a slightly elevated position. Elevating the head of the bed can help to keep the stomach content and the acids to where they belong.
However, if all these preventive measures and lifestyle changes fail to alleviate the symptoms, then please contact the physician. Sometimes, acid reflux can require hospitalization, especially if it causes weight loss due to severe vomiting. Therefore, it is better to get the condition medically evaluated with the help of the physician.
Disclaimer: This HerHaleness article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.