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Acid Reflux

Introduction

Reflux (also referred to as 'acid reflux' or 'heartburn' or simply 'indigestion') is where the contents of the stomach, which are acidic, spill up into the gullet (oesophagus)and cause a burning sensation in the chest. The condition mainly affects people over 40 years old.

Causes

As food reaches the stomach it passes through a type of 'valve' (a 'sphincter') that sits between the oesophagus and the stomach. Where this valve allows stomach acid to pass back up into the oesophagus, which it is there to prevent, this acid burns the lining of the oesophagus.

Where this happens on a frequent basis it is described as Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease, or 'GORD'.

Symptoms

The following symptoms indicate possible acid reflux:

  • Abdominal pain.
  • Acidic taste in the throat.
  • Burning sensation in the chest / chest pain.
  • Chest pain.
  • Cough (where no other apparent cause).
  • Hoarseness.
  • Sore throat.
  • Swallowing difficulty (dysphagia).

Treatment

It is possible to manage symptoms of acid reflux either with over the counter medications, or with some straightforward lifestyle changes. These include:

  • Avoiding particular food / drinks that may cause the condition (chocolate, coffee, fatty foods are common irritants).
  • Avoiding going to bed (or reclining) within 3 hours of having a meal.
  • Giving up smoking.
  • Losing weight.
  • Raising the position of the head while sleeping (by either raising the mattress or the bed at the head by 15-20cm).
  • Reducing meal sizes (or eating smaller meals more frequently).
  • Reducing or stopping alcohol consumption.

Over the counter medicines such as antacids and antihistamines, may also help.

If you have suffered acid reflux for over a year, or if the treatments suggested above do not help, you should seek medical advice. You should also seek immediate medical assistance if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Chest pain.
  • Choking when eating.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Sensation that food is getting stuck after swallowing.
  • Losing weight (and you are not following a diet or similar).
  • Blood in the vomit.
  • Blood in bowel movements (this could be bright red or a black tar like consistency).

Children with acid reflux

The condition is less common in children and may have different causes. If a child has any of the symptoms of acid reflux, they should be taken to a doctor before / following any of the guidelines outlined above.