Low stomach acid produces a condition known as hypochlorhydria, while achlorhyrdia is a complete lack of stomach acid. It is often a secondary symptom of another condition, but it can also result from the use of antacids, from radiation therapy targeting the stomach, or from complications of gastric bypass surgery. The risks of this condition are unknown, but it may lead to an increased risk of stomach cancer.
Stomach acid is a very important part of the digestive system. It maintains a low pH in the stomach, which activates the release of the enzyme pepsin to break down proteins in one's diet. In addition, stomach acid helps to prevent the growth of bacteria that cannot survive in a highly acidic environment.
A person suffering from low stomach acid may experience various gastrointestinal symptoms, many similar to those of acid reflux disease. Such symptoms include pain or difficulty when swallowing, regurgitation, nausea, heartburn, and excessive salivation. The condition can also contribute to abnormal bacterial growth in the gastrointestinal tract, causing symptoms such as diarrhea and malabsorption of nutrients and vitamins. The risk of certain bacterial infections is increased, including Vibrio vulnificus, a close relative of cholera often found in shellfish.
Some of the diseases that can cause low stomach acid are autoimmune disorders in which the cells responsible for the production of stomach acid are targeted; VIPoma, a pancreatic tumor that secretes vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP); stomach cancer; pernicious anemia; Helicobacter pylori infection; and rare diseases including the congenital mucolipidosis. If you experience any of the symptoms, it is important to visit a medical professional as soon as possible, whether or not you are aware that any of the risk factors apply to you. Gastrointestinal symptoms are not only uncomfortable, but can be extremely dangerous as well. Low stomach acid is only one of many conditions that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, and it is often only a symptom itself of something more serious.