Acid reflux

Acid reflux is known by a number of names including GORD (gastro oesophageal reflux disease), reflux, dyspepsia and heartburn.  This condition is caused by what happens to your food and drink after you have eaten.

When you eat or drink anything, gravity and muscles allow the food to travel down the tube-like oesophagus to the stomach.  Once in the stomach, the contents are normally prevented from going back upwards again by a valve or sphincter at the join between these two parts of the digestive system.

When this valve becomes loose or is prevented from tightening around the top of the stomach the stomach contents can travel back up the oesophagus to the mouth again.  This results in an acid taste in the mouth from the stomach acids, and vomit from the partially digested food and fluids.

Certain foods, medicines and medical conditions can make this worse, either temporarily or permanently, and may result in damage to the oesophagus if not treated effectively.   

People at risk of acid reflux may find that smoking, alcohol, rich or spicy food may aggravate this condition.  It is not uncommon for pregnant women to develop acid reflux as the size of the baby may put pressure on the stomach and not allow the usual amount of food or liquid to be taken in.  Other causes of acid reflux include hiatus hernia, and being overweight or stressed. Medications for blood pressure, asthma, depression and insomnia may also worsen or cause acid reflux.

Symptoms of acid reflux, apart from the metallic or acid taste in the mouth and occasional small amounts of vomit described earlier may include tightness or burning in the chest, feelings of nausea, difficulty swallowing and a persistent cough.
Often the condition is worse at night, when lying down, or after a large, rich or spicy meal, or when feeling tired or stressed.

As some of the symptoms of acid reflux may also be symptoms of more serious conditions it is important to seek help whenever any of these symptoms occur.  Your community pharmacist will be able to help with determining if you are suffering from a serious condition requiring prompt referral to your doctor, or with treatment or advice to help you treat, manage, prevent or lessen the effects of this condition which can cause severe discomfort and distress to those suffering from it.

It is not uncommon for patients with severe symptoms of heartburn to confuse the symptoms of their acid reflux with angina, or chest pain, so if you or anyone around you complains of sudden severe crushing pain in their chest or arm then do not delay and call the ambulance immediately.  

For those that already have acid reflux, it is very important that they use effective treatment as damage to the oesophagus can cause other more serious conditions if not treated effectively.  It is best not to put up with stomach discomfort, but to seek help and advice from your community pharmacist, who has many treatments available for purchase over the counter to manage this condition.