Achlorhydria refers to a bodily condition when the production of hydrochloric acid in gastric secretions of the gut deteriorates over a period. Hydrochloric acid is an essential acid that helps to break down our food and activate digestive enzymes, dissolve proteins, and help the body to kill bacteria, viruses, and harmful pathogens thus protecting the stomach from several infections and diseases. While elevated levels of stomach acid can lead to heartburn, acid reflux, and ulcers, extremely low levels of stomach acid may impair the body’s ability to digest food. Essential vitamins and minerals such as calcium and folic acid rely on adequate stomach acid for their effective absorption into the digestive tract. The absence of hydrochloric acid interferes with smooth digestion and absorption of nutrients.
Also Read: Digestive Health: Easy Ways To Reduce Bloating
Achlorhydria is a severe form of a disorder called hypochlorhydria which is a mild deficiency of acids. The absence of important stomach acids leads to malnutrition and excessive bacterial growth. Hypochlorhydria is easy to treat, but achlorhydria, if not diagnosed and treated on time, can impair the digestive process, eventually causing the gastrointestinal system to malfunction. Achlorhydria also increases the chance of developing anemia because, without stomach acids, the body lacks the efficiency to absorb iron. The advanced stage of achlorhydria can have life-threatening consequences.
Who Is At Risk?
While achlorhydria can affect males and females of all ages, more often, this condition is noticed more in elderly people. People who have undergone weight loss or gastric bypass procedures are also at risk of getting the ailment. These procedures reduce the size of the stomach, altering the body’s way of managing food. Changes in the size of the stomach can decrease acid production.
Causes Of Achlorhydria
The primary causes that contribute to developing achlorhydria are:
Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism significantly slows down the body’s metabolism which eventually results in a decrease in gastric acid production resulting in nutritional deficiencies.
Medications: Antacids are frequently used to alleviate problems of heartburn or indigestion and provide relief from gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. However, overuse of these antacids prevents the body from producing stomach acids, thus leading to issues like hypochlorhydria and achlorhydria.
Pylori Infection: This is a health condition caused by a bacterium that can cause certain infections in the small intestine or stomach. It is the most common cause of peptic ulcers and if left untreated, this infection can decline stomach acid production. Over time, it leads to achlorhydria.
Autoimmune Disorders: Certain autoimmune disorders such as pernicious anemia can affect stomach acid production. Celiac diseasecan also cause numerous digestive concerns and reduce stomach acid levels.
Also Read: Pernicious Anaemia: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment
Symptoms Of Achlorhydria
Achlorhydria symptoms can include the following:
- Acid reflux
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Unexpected Weight loss
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Brittle nails
- Sudden severe hair loss
- Undigested food in stools
One of the most common complications of achlorhydria is the presence of excessive bacteria in the small intestine which occurs due to inadequate stomach acid. Achlorhydria complications may prevent the small intestine from absorbing nutrients from foods causing malabsorption. Nutrient deficiencies can also lead to various complications including weakness in arms and legs, tingling sensation in fingers and toes, loss of memory, and vision changes.
If your doctor thinks you may be suffering from achlorhydria, a complete medical history and symptoms of the patient are evaluated and the best way to measure your stomach acid levels is identified. If the patient has problems with acid reflux or digestive issues, the doctor may also evaluate the pH level of the stomach. The normal volume of stomach fluid is 20 to 100 ml to maintain digestive health. However, premature infants and old people may have less acid in their stomachs than this value. A complete blood count is done to identify certain types of anemia, often related to inadequate stomach acid levels.
Treatment of achlorhydria depends on the root cause of this condition. If achlorhydria has occurred due to an infection, doctors may prescribe antibiotics to treat the primary infection. If a medication to alleviate acid reflux symptoms is triggering achlorhydria, your doctor may plan a different course of action to prevent achlorhydria. Achlorhydria can lead to significant health problems and complications, thus the illness should be treated immediately upon diagnosis, and any digestive changes in the body should not be ignored.