Acid Reflux / GORD

Suffering from acid reflux, also known as heartburn and indigestion?

Whether your symptoms are recent or you have been suffering with symptoms of acid reflux over the longer term, specialist healthcare is available to help reduce, or relieve the pain and discomfort you are experiencing. Like many gastrointestinal conditions, acid reflux can be treated successfully following diagnosis.

Causes of acid reflux

Acid reflux is a digestive disorder caused when the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) isn’t working properly.

It is common and two to three times more likely to occur in men, than in women.

The LOS is a ring of muscles located at the base of the oesophagus, which relaxes to allow food to pass into the stomach. It also contracts to prevent food, or acid from the stomach from passing back upwards.

When this muscle is not functioning properly, acid/stomach contents can travel back up the oesophagus causing various symptoms from a burning sensation in the chest to a nasty, acidic taste in the mouth.

Causes of acid reflux can simply be related to diet and lifestyle choices, as well as eating habits, as well as just getting older. Sometimes a change in one or more of these factors is enough to relieve symptoms.

Acid reflux can be linked to:

  • Weight gain and obesity
  • Foods that affect the LOS such as caffeine, chocolate and fatty foods
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Eating large meals that overload the digestive system
  • Eating meals late at night and then lying down too soon
  • Tight fitting clothing
  • Pregnancy
  • Certain drugs (eg tricyclic antidepressants, anticholinergics, nitrates and calcium-channel blockers)

Consultation with a specialist, who can conduct the necessary diagnostic tests, is the first step to better understanding your symptoms.

Acid reflux symptoms

Almost everyone will experience acid reflux symptoms from time to time, for example following a heavy meal, or on holiday when there can be a change in diet to richer food. However, if symptoms are occurring on a more regular basis it is likely that there is an underlying problem.

Are you experiencing any of these symptoms on a regular basis?

  • A burning feeling in the stomach and lower chest, usually after eating
  • Regurgitation of acid or bile, or food contents shortly after eating
  • Vomiting after eating
  • Excessive salivation
  • Pain when swallowing
  • Respiratory symptoms, including hoarse voice, cough, wheezing and shortness of breath

Longer term, persistent acid travelling back up toward the mouth can cause an erosion of the oesophagus lining, as well a scarring or ulcers that may cause the oesophagus to narrow.

Acid reflux can also lead to changes in the cells lining the oesophagus, a condition known as Barrett’s oesophagus.

Whilst rare, Barrett’s oesophagus can lead to oesophageal cancer, so precautions need to be taken to correctly identify the condition and treat the symptoms at the right time.

Acid reflux treatment

To properly assess the digestive system, to diagnose and investigate these symptoms, you may require an endoscopy of the stomach, called a gastroscopy or upper gastrointestinal endoscopy. This is performed under sedation, by a gastroenterologist, and will enable the doctor to see inflammation, soreness and any ulceration. Other conditions are also visualised (e.g. hiatus hernia) and biopsies can be taken to establish cellular changes (e.g. Barrett’s oesophagus, inflammation).

Treatments may include:

Treatment can be as simple as making lifestyle changes:

  • Reduce meal sizes and altering timing of meals
  • Avoiding laying down for several hours following eating
  • Avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol consumption
  • Raise the head of the bed by 6-8 inches
  • Chewing gum may help
  • Losing weight

Other treatment options include:

  • Use of antacids such as Rennies or Gaviscon, which can relieve mild symptoms
  • For more severe symptoms, prescribed medication may be more suitable, such as Ranitidine, which works to reduce the amount of stomach acid your body produces
  • Newer anti-acid medication such as proton pump inhibitors (e.g. omeprazole, esomeprazole), which also act to reduce the stomach acid levels

In severe cases that do not respond to lifestyle measures and medication, a review by a surgeon and further investigations may be necessary to determine the need for advanced keyhole surgery to help tighten the muscles of the LOS and prevent reflux.

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Whether your gastrointestinal symptoms started recently or are long-standing, our specialists can help diagnose and manage your condition. Please contact us to arrange a consultation with one of our specialist team. A consultation with a specialist to discuss the necessary diagnostic tests is the first step.