Acid reflux

Acid reflux (gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)), also known as heartburn, is a relatively common condition, where stomach acid leaks into the oesophagus (gullet) and causes a burning sensation.

Acid reflux symptoms include heartburn or an unpleasant taste at the back of the mouth. The severity of the symptoms can vary widely; for some patients it’s just an occasional nuisance, for others it can significantly affect their long-term quality of life. The condition can often be treated with self-help measures or medication, but sometimes surgery is required to correct the cause of the problem.

Acid reflux may be caused by a hiatus hernia, but it usually occurs because the ring of muscle at the lower end of the oesophagus, where it meets the stomach, becomes weakened or doesn’t close properly. This allows the acid in the stomach to pass back up into the oesophagus which causes the symptoms such as heartburn.

The exact reasons why this ring of muscle becomes weakened are not clear, but these factors can increase your risk of acid reflux:

being overweight or obese
eating a lot of fatty foods
smoking, consuming alcohol, coffee or chocolate
being pregnant
gastroparesis
certain medicines (e.g. calcium-channel blockers, nitrates and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
stress
hereditary factors

The main symptom of acid reflux is heartburn, which is an uncomfortable burning sensation in the middle of the chest just below the breastbone or spreading up to the throat. This sensation is usually worse after eating (particularly a large meal), when bending over, or when lying down. Acid reflux can also cause an unpleasant, sour taste in the back of the mouth.

Other symptoms include:

  • bad breath
  • feeling bloated/ belching
  • nausea
  • difficult/painful swallowing (feels like a piece of food stuck down in your throat)
  • sore throat/hoarseness
  • a persistent cough or wheezing, which may be worse at night
  • a sore, inflamed oesophagus (gullet)
  • tooth decay and gum disease

Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose acid reflux after discussing your symptoms and a routine examination. You may need to be referred for further tests if your symptoms are severe; these could include an endoscopy, a barium swallow or meal test, manometry, pH monitoring or blood tests.

Blood tests

Blood tests are a commonly used diagnostic tool to assess your general state of health, or to check for something more specific.

Gastroscopy

An OGD or gastroscopy is where a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end is inserted via the mouth to investigate the oesophagus, stomach, and small intestine.

Barium studies

Barium studies (tests) involve ingesting a barium sulphate suspension, which is a metallic compound which shows up on X-rays. It allows the outline of your oesophagus, stomach, and small intestines to be studied.

What next?

If you are suffering with a suspected condition, you should seek the advice of your doctor who will be able to refer you to Benenden Hospital for diagnosis and treatment.

There are four ways to access treatment at Benenden Hospital which include self-funding, using private medical insurance or your Benenden membership, or through the NHS e-Referral scheme.