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In patients with GERD, the LES (lower esophageal sphincter) does not function properly. The LES is a tube that runs from the esophagus to the stomach. Under normal conditions, food travels through the LES into the stomach. Once food reaches the stomach, the LES then closes to prevent any stomach acids from returning to the esophagus.
When the LES becomes weakened or damaged, the tube doesn't close once food has entered the stomach. The end result is the return of unwanted stomach acids to the esophagus, causing heartburn or acid reflux.
Smoking can damage the esophagus, leading to a high incidence of GERD among smokers.
In addition to weakening the LES muscle, smoking creates another disadvantage for patients. Under normal conditions, your saliva contains an optimum amount of bicarbonate. Bicarbonate is needed to help neutralize and dissolve stomach acid quickly.
Unfortunately for smokers, their body may produce only half the amount of saliva found in non-smokers. Less saliva means less bicarbonate, which results in the body taking longer to break down harmful stomach acids.
Many smokers think that not smoking a few hours before a meal will eliminate any unpleasant GERD symptoms. This is not the case. Acid reflux symptoms often do not occur immediately or shortly after smoking. So stopping smoking only at times when GERD is most likely to occur will not help your condition.
In order to permanently reduce or eliminate the symptoms of GERD, a patient must stop smoking altogether. After quitting smoking, your saliva level will eventually return to normal and the amount of bicarbonate will also increase. In due time, the LES may begin to heal too.
Besides kicking your smoking habit, there are also many foods and drinks that can trigger acid reflux symptoms. By avoiding these foods and beverages, you can further help prevent GERD.
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