What Causes Acid Reflux Disease?

Are you suffering from symptoms of acid reflux and can’t find relief? Doctors aren’t always sure what causes acid reflux disease. Triggered by an increase of acid in your esophagus, acid reflux disease may develop for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Stomach abnormalities
  • Pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Eating foods that cause acid reflux

What is Acid Reflux Disease?

Acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux (GER), is the backward flow of stomach acid into the tube that connects your throat to your stomach (esophagus). Acid reflux is a common medical condition that can range in severity from mild to severe.

A circular muscle called the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) joins your esophagus and stomach. This muscle is in charge of tightening your esophagus after food passes to the stomach. If this muscle is weak or doesn’t tighten properly, the acid from your stomach can move backward into your esophagus. This is known as acid reflux.

Acid reflux can cause heartburn and other symptoms that include:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Bitter taste in the back of the throat
  • Sour taste in the mouth
  • Burning and pressure that can extend up the breastbone

What are Common Causes of Acid Reflux Disease?

One common cause of acid reflux disease is a stomach abnormality called a hiatal hernia, which can occur in people of any age. A hiatal hernia is a condition in which a small part of your stomach bulges through a hole in your diaphragm. This hole is called a hiatus. It’s a normal, anatomically correct opening that allows your esophagus to connect to your stomach.

When it works correctly, the diaphragm typically helps keep acid from rising into your esophagus. But if you have a hiatal hernia, it is easier for acid to move up into your esophagus.


Many women experience acid reflux for the first time during pregnancy. This is caused by increasing levels of hormones combined with pressure from the growing fetus. Usually worse during the third trimester, the symptoms almost always go away after delivery.


Smoking may contribute to acid reflux disease by doing any of the following:

  • Damaging mucus membranes
  • Slowing or preventing muscle reflexes in the throat
  • Triggering your stomach to make more acid
  • Preventing the lower esophageal sphincter muscle from working well
  • Cutting back on saliva, which neutralizes the effect of acid


Studies have shown that adults with obesity can increase their risk of acid reflux disease.

Excess fat around the belly increases the pressure on the stomach, forcing fluid up into the esophagus. This added pressure impacts the sphincter between the stomach and the esophagus, causing it to relax and allow acidic stomach contents into the esophagus. Extra weight can also impair the body’s ability to empty the stomach quickly.

Other common causes of acid reflux disease include:

  • Eating a heavy meal and lying on your back or bending over at the waist
  • Snacking close to bedtime or lying down right after a meal
  • Taking aspirin or ibuprofen, some muscle relaxers, or certain blood pressure medications

Which Foods Can Increase Your Risk of Acid Reflux Disease?

The foods you eat affect the amount of acid your stomach produces. Eating the right kinds of food is key to controlling acid reflux disease.

Food and drinks that commonly trigger acid reflux include:

  • Alcohol, particularly red wine
  • Black pepper
  • Garlic and raw onions
  • Spicy foods
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruits
  • Coffee and caffeinated drinks
  • Peppermint
  • Tomatoes

Foods that may help reduce your symptoms of acid reflux include:

  • Vegetables
  • Ginger
  • Oatmeal
  • Noncitrus fruits
  • Lean meats and seafood
  • Egg whites
  • Healthy fats (avocados, walnuts, flaxseed, olive oil, sesame oil, and sunflower oil)

If you’re experiencing symptoms of acid reflux disease regularly and would like to discuss your treatment options, please feel free to contact us.