Gastro-oesophageal reflux (acid reflux)
Reflux occurs when liquid leaks from the stomach into the oesophagus, which is the long tube of muscle running from the mouth to the stomach. Everybody may have some limited amount of reflux. In patients with reflux disease, however, reflux occurs more frequently and becomes symptomatic. Sometimes, acid reflux moves back up the oesophagus and into the throat or mouth, which may lead to the patient experiencing an unpleasant taste in their mouth. If reflux occurs repeatedly this can cause the oesophagus to become sensitive as the acid irritates its lining and so this can lead onto a condition called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). It is estimated that one in five people will experience some form of GORD every week, highlighting what a common condition this is.
Common symptoms of GORD include:
- Heartburn (burning sensation behind the breast boon)
- Regurgitation (feeling that acid or bitter liquid is moving up to the mouth)
- An unpleasant taste in the mouth
- Excessive belching
- Chest pain
- Stomach pains
- More rarely (cough, dental erosions, sore throat, asthma)
The reasons for GORD are multiple. A very important reason is the failure of a mechanism of a “valve” that exists between the oesophagus and the stomach. When this “valve” is very weak, has moved into the thorax (hiatal hernia) or opens spontaneously after the meals, reflux of gastric liquid may occur.
Some factors predispose an individual to reflux, e.g. overweight, smoking, pregnancy and high fat diet. Simple treatments such as changing your diet will first be used in an attempt to treat GORD, but if this does not work then over-the-counter medicines, for example antacids, will be suggested in order to reduce the amount of stomach acid and thus the symptoms you experience. If these medicines have no beneficial effect then your doctor can prescribe stronger medicines or may suggest anti-reflux surgery. The pH levels in your oesophagus may be monitored in order to measure the amount of reflux you experience and so suggest the best course of treatment.