Heartburn, indigestion, and reflux are all terms used to describe the same condition. Your doctor may give it a complicated medical sounding name – Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD) – if you get it frequently.

 

But it’s not really that complicated.

 

When you eat, food is swallowed from your mouth to your stomach through the oesophagus. Once food is in your stomach, a muscular ring (called a sphincter) prevents food

 

 

What Are the Symptoms?

 

Most commonly, GORD symptoms:

 

  • Feeling that food is stuck behind the breastbone

 

  • Heartburn or a burning pain in the chest (under the breastbone)

 

  • Increased by bending, stooping, lying down, or eating

 

  • More likely or worse at night

 

  • Relieved by antacids

 

  • Nausea after eating
 

 

 

 

Less common symptoms:

 

  • Bringing food back up (regurgitation)

 

  • Cough or wheezing

 

  • Difficulty swallowing

 

  • Hiccups

 

  • Hoarseness or change in voice

 

  • Sore throat

 

 

from moving back up into your oesophagus.

 

If this sphincter muscle doesn't close tightly, your stomach contents squeeze up through the sphincter and into your

oesophagus. This is called reflux or gastro-oesophageal reflux.

 

It is the digestive acids from your stomach that can irritate your oesophagus, causing a burning sensation in your chest. This symptom is known as heartburn.

 

What Causes It?

 

Occasional heartburn is commonly caused by overindulgence (such as eating a large meal, too much alcohol), or pregnancy (when the baby puts upward pressure on the stomach). Exercising, bending or lifting after a meal may also trigger reflux to occur.

 

Persistent heartburn is medically known as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD). It is common in people who are overweight, when excessive fat reduces the space in the abdomen for the stomach. The added pressure on the stomach makes the stomach contents

 

The oesophagus is the tube which connects the throat to the stomach; between the stomach and oesophagus is a valve or “sphincter” which prevents the backflow of stomach contents – the acid that aids digestion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the sphincter is weak or there is increased pressure within the stomach, acid can flow backwards into the oesophagus. This is often brought on by spicy or acidic food or drink, alcohol and overeating.

 

The stomach acid irritates the oesophagus, which is lined with very sensitive tissue, densely packed with sensory nerve endings.

 

more likely to be are pushed up into the oesophagus.

 

GORD can also be worsened by dietary fats, alcohol, caffeine and smoking because they weaken the sphincter muscle.

 

Treatment for Heartburn

 

Mild, occasional heartburn can occur in otherwise healthy people, and is simply treated with an antacid that neutralises the stomach acid, thus relieving the discomfort.

 

Persistent heartburn or GORD is usually treated with medication from your doctor or pharmacist to reduce the amount of digestive acid being produced or released into the stomach. Sometimes only a short course (6-8 weeks) of treatment is required to clear up your symptoms and allow your irritated oesophagus to heal.

 

Many GORD sufferers however, will require ongoing acid-suppressing medication to control their symptoms. But you can help yourself…

 

Tips to Reduce Reflux

 

You can make many simple lifestyle changes to improve your symptoms.

 

  • Lose weight, if you need to - talk to your local Direct Chemist Outlet pharmacy for weight loss advice

 

  • Minimise alcohol

 

  • Avoid drinks and foods that have caffeine, such as coffee, tea, cola and chocolate

 

  • Eat smaller meals, more frequently

 

  • If you smoke, quitting is the only healthy option. Speak to your GP or call Quitline on 13 QUIT (13 7848) for help.

 

  • Exercise, but not right after eating.

 

  • Reduce your stress and watch for stressful, tense times. Stress can bother your reflux problem.

 

  • Bend at the knees - not your waist - to pick things up.

 

  • Avoid wearing clothes that put pressure on your waist or stomach.

 

  • Remain upright for 2 - 3 hours before you go to bed.

 

  • Raise the head of your bed using blocks or a wedge support

 

Complications of GORD

 

If left untreated, persistent reflux can damage your oesophagus, potentially causing:

 

  • Oesophagitis – inflammation of the oesophagus.

 

  • Ulceration – bleeding of the oesophagus

 

  • Stricture – scarring and narrowing of the oesophagus.

 

  • Barrett’s oesophagus – a change in the oesophageal lining that increases cancer risk

 

So if the above self-help tips are not successful, or you suffer with heartburn regularly, it is important to see your doctor to prevent complications.


DISCLAIMER: This material contains general information about medical conditions and treatments and is intended for educational purposes only. It does not constitute medical or professional advice, nor should it be used for the purposes of diagnosing or treating any illness. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your local pharmacist or health care provider to obtain professional advice relevant to your specific circumstances.