Read on to find out answers to some commonly asked questions such as:
- What’s causing my reflux?
- Is there a difference between heartburn and reflux?
- How can I treat it?
What is Acid Reflux?
Acid reflux refers to the reverse passage of stomach acid into the throat or food pipe which causes an unpleasant sensation known as heartburn. The opening of your stomach is controlled by your sphincter muscle which is a ring of muscle but also acts as a valve which opens to allow food through into the stomach. If the muscle becomes relaxed, the valve will not close fully, allowing acidic gastric contents to travel back up. You may hear acid reflux and heartburn used interchangeably, however, heartburn just refers to the symptomatic burning discomfort experienced by those with acid reflux.
Frequent and persistent acid reflux is referred to as GORD – Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease. GORD is fairly common in the UK, with around one in ten people experiencing it. The long term effects of GORD include damage to the oesophagal lining, so it’s important that you speak to your local pharmacist or GP about ways to manage your reflux.
What are the Main Symptoms of Acid Reflux?
The most commonly experienced symptoms of acid reflux are heartburn and an unpleasant acidic taste at the back of the throat. These symptoms are usually worse straight after a meal or when lying down. Other symptoms also include:
- Urge to burp
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pressure in the chest area
- Bad breath
How Do I Combat Acid Reflux?
Most people will experience some degree of acid reflux at some point in their lives, particularly at times of over-indulgence. However, persistent episodes can be managed in the following ways:
(1) Diet: Certain foods exacerbate reflux wither by relaxing the sphincter muscle, or by increasing stomach acid. Greasy, fried foods, fatty cuts of meat and processed foods can relax the sphincter. Caffeine, alcohol and spicy food can cause excess acid production, increasing your risk of reflux.
(2) Weight: Carrying excess weight places much more pressure on your stomach, increasing the risk of the valve to the stomach staying open or opening more easily, therefore letting acid back up.
(3) Routine: Those who sleep within 3 hours of a meal or snack before bed are at higher risk of reflux, or find their symptoms magnified. It’s important that your routine centres around light walking after meals and leaving reasonable gaps between meals and naps or bedtime.
(4) Lifestyle: Those with a healthy lifestyle find their symptoms greatly reduced. Smokers have a higher incidence of reflux, as well as those who drink alcohol regularly so cutting down on these habits is key. Stress is also a major factor which can contribute to reflux, so try to find some time to wind down and de-stress if you feel this may be the case.
(5) Anatomy: Whilst this isn’t something you can change, something known as a hiatus hernia can cause reflux as the stomach is pushed up high into the ribcage. It’s important that if you suspect this, you see your GP immediately in order to be referred to the relevant specialist.
What Treatment Options are Available for Acid Reflux?
If you’ve tried the above-mentioned self-help measures to manage your reflux and find there is little improvement to your symptoms or if your reflux is severe and impacting your life, you may need prescription treatments. Consult your pharmacist or GP before use if pregnant or breastfeeding.