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Reflux / Indigestion

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What is reflux?

Acid reflux or heartburn is a burning pain felt in the chest and sometimes back of the throat, caused by stomach acid flowing back up your oesophagus (‘food pipe’) and irritating its lining.
Sometimes the condition is simply called indigestion.

If you suffer from reflux a few times a week, rather than just occasionally, you may have a condition called GORD which stands for Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease. (Also called GERD to match the US spelling of Gastroesophageal).

In addition to the burning pain or sensation in the chest or throat, some people suffer from excessive burping or a sore throat (or hoarseness). It can even cause night time or early morning coughing.

Where your stomach meets your oesophagus (the tube your food travels down from your mouth) is a muscle ‘valve’ or sphincter that allows food through and under normal conditions, closes to prevent stomach acid rising up.

If the sphincter relaxes abnormally or is somehow weakened in strength, stomach acid can flow up your oesophagus, causing the pain of heartburn. This tends to happen more when you bend over or lie down.

Sometimes the reflux is caused by a physical issue called a hiatus hernia, a condition in which the stomach bulges up into the chest cavity through an opening in your diaphragm muscle. This hernia compromises the ability of the sphincter to prevent acid flowing up.

What causes reflux or heartburn?

Where your stomach meets your oesophagus (the tube your food travels down from your mouth) is a muscle ‘valve’ or sphincter that allows food through and under normal conditions, closes to prevent stomach acid rising up.

If the sphincter relaxes abnormally or is somehow weakened in strength, stomach acid can flow up your oesophagus, causing the pain of heartburn. This tends to happen more when you bend over or lie down.

Sometimes the reflux is caused by a physical issue called a hiatus hernia, a condition in which the stomach bulges up into the chest cavity through an opening in your diaphragm muscle. This hernia compromises the ability of the sphincter to prevent acid flowing up.

Other risk factors for heartburn or reflux include:

  • Large meals or eating large meals late at night
  • Delayed stomach emptying
  • Being overweight
  • Pregnancy (pushing on the stomach and contents)
  • Fatty or spicy foods
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking

How to prevent reflux

If you have persistent heartburn or reflux, it’s important that you seek advice from your healthcare professional, to identify the cause and rule out more serious issues.

In other cases, it’s a matter of reducing the risk:

● Eat smaller meals and avoid late night ones
● Lose weight if necessary
● Reduce consumption of fatty or spicy foods and alcohol
● Quit smoking

How to treat reflux

The most common treatments for reflux, heartburn or indigestion are:

  • Antacids, which work by neutralising acid, and/or by coating the top of the stomach to help prevent acid rising
  • H2 antagonists, which work by reducing the amount of acid produced in the stomach
  • Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs), which work by a different mechanism to stop the production of acid
  • Natural alternatives that restore gut health

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