What is Non-Acid Reflux?

N. Madison
N. Madison

Many people are familiar with acid reflux and discomfort it can create, but some patients also develop non-acid reflux. Essentially, a person with this condition has non-acidic substances that back up from the stomach into the esophagus. This may cause a range of unpleasant symptoms, including indigestion, coughing, heartburn, and even asthma. Unfortunately, a person with this problem may think he’s dealing with acid reflux and use acid-reflux medication to treat it. If the patient is actually suffering form non-acid reflux, however, the typical acid reflux medications are unlikely to work.

Non-acid reflux occurs when non-acidic substances rise from the stomach into the esophagus.
Non-acid reflux occurs when non-acidic substances rise from the stomach into the esophagus.

Many of the symptoms of non-acid reflux are similar to those of acid reflux, including heartburn, indigestion, and nausea. In some people, this condition may even lead to the development of a chronic cough or asthma. A person who has this type of reflux may also become hoarse and feel the urge to clear his throat frequently. Sometimes, it may even cause a person to regurgitate a small amount of his stomach contents.

Non-acidic reflux may cause chronic coughing.
Non-acidic reflux may cause chronic coughing.

Some experts believe acid reflux medication may be at the root of other reflux symptoms for some patients, though there may be other causes and contributing factors as well. Many patients take medicine to control the acid in their stomachs and prevent it from being pushed up from the stomach into the esophagus. Acid reflux medication often works well for neutralizing the acid, but a patient may develop symptoms anyway. This may happen because the medication does the job of neutralizing stomach acids but cannot stop the contents of the stomach from being pushed up. As a result, the patient experiences the reflux of neutralized stomach contents.

Individuals with non-acidic reflux may experience nausea.
Individuals with non-acidic reflux may experience nausea.

Medical professionals can determine whether a person has non-acid or acid reflux by using esophageal pH monitoring. A pH above four may indicate that the patient is having non-acid reflux, though in some cases, healthcare professionals consider a pH of seven and above an indication of this form. On the other hand, a pH below four would generally indicate that the gastric contents are acidic.

Since the typical treatments for acid reflux don’t usually work for those with the non-acid version, healthcare providers have to use different methods for treating this condition. Often, surgery is used to repair the valve responsible for keeping stomach contents out of the esophagus. In some cases, medication may also help make this valve work better.

Asthma is sometimes a result of non-acid reflux.
Asthma is sometimes a result of non-acid reflux.
N. Madison
N. Madison

Nicole’s thirst for knowledge inspired her to become a wiseGEEK writer, and she focuses primarily on topics such as homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. When not writing or spending time with her four children, Nicole enjoys reading, camping, and going to the beach.

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Discussion Comments


@OeKc05 - My doctor did an endoscopy (a peek down the esophagus) and diagnosed me with GERD. Also he stretched the muscle valve where the throat goes into the esophagus. I had been having trouble with food like rice and bread getting stuck in the entrance to the esophagus.

Sometimes food still gets stuck in the esophagus so I'll probably have to have that stretched again.

I, also take medicine to neutralize the stomach acid, but food still comes up to my mouth. So, who knows, maybe neutralizing the stomach acid with medicine causes non-acid reflux. I know what you mean about drinking water making it worse.

I didn't know about the pH monitoring that can be done to determine if it is acid or non-acid reflux. I guess I better go back to the doctor and see what's what.


My dad has suffered from reflux for years. He recently gave up taking over-the-counter medicine and went to see his physician.

The doctor set him up with a test that can detect non-acid reflux. A monitor measures the electrical resistance within the esophagus. With this monitor, the physician can see gas and liquid moving from inside the stomach into the esophagus.

He placed a catheter inside my dad’s nose into his esophagus. He had to wear it for 24 hours. The doctor did determine that he has non-acid reflux.

Before trying surgery, my dad has a couple of other options that may help. He can try losing weight, and he can eat smaller meals. If these changes help him, he won’t need surgery.


I have what I thought was acid reflux, but after reading this, I'm not sure. The medicine I'm taking isn't working very well, so maybe I have non-acid reflux.

Whatever it is, it burns when it reaches my throat. That is why I assumed it was acidic. I always ran to the kitchen and ate a cracker to neutralize the burn, and that really helped. Water just intensified the nasty taste.

Now that I know that a doctor needs to look at the pH to be able to tell, I think I had better make an appointment and stop self-medicating before I cause myself any more problems. It really affects my appetite, because it is hard to eat after you get the taste of vomit in your mouth.


My friend got diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Her doctor told her it is very common and affects around 20 million people in the United States alone.

He said that she needed surgery to repair her lower esophageal sphincter. This ringed muscle is the valve that keeps the stomach contents from entering the esophagus. Hers wasn’t working right, and the only way to fix it was through this operation.

She just had the surgery last week, so it’s too early to tell if it worked or not. Surely if something as extreme as an operation is necessary, it must have a high success rate, or why else would they do it?


I seem to have these non-acid reflux symptoms. It is really gross when my food comes back up in my mouth a little bit. It tastes kind of like vomit but it comes up gently and doesn't need to spew forth.

I have been taking acid reflux medication, and I now believe it may be the cause of my non-acid reflux. I'm going to stop taking it and see my doctor. I hope I don't need surgery, because I am terrified of it. Maybe he will just give me some other type of medicine to treat it.

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