Acid reflux is a condition where stomach acid travels up and into the throat. Usually the main symptoms are a burning feeling in the chest, which is heartburn, and a sour taste in your mouth or the back of your throat. You may also experience bloating, burping or prolonged coughing and sore throat.
Acid reflux and heartburn are usually triggered by something you have eaten. Foods with high quantities of garlic, onion, spice, citrus or tomatoes are common triggers, although these vary from person to person. Eating within a few hours of going to bed, eating too much and lying down after eating can also cause an acid reflux flare up.
“Acid reflux affects most people at some point in their lives and these small, infrequent bouts of heartburn are usually nothing to worry about. When acid reflux becomes a recurring condition at least twice a week, this is known as Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease which may need prescription medication to treat the symptoms of this condition. Most people live normally with acid reflux but for others, medication such as proton pump inhibitors may be needed to reduce the amount of acid being produced in the stomach.”
What is acid reflux
Acid reflux is a condition that involves stomach acid travelling back up the oesophagus (food pipe) and into the throat giving an uncomfortable sickly feeling and heartburn. Many people experience acid reflux or heartburn occasionally, but for some this can be a recurring condition known as Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD). Acid reflux and heartburn are usually associated together and confused for being the same condition, when in fact heartburn is a symptom of the action of acid reflux. Acid reflux is a common condition with many experiencing symptoms of heartburn which manifests itself as a burning sensation in the chest or throat. There is acid reflux treatment available in the form of tablets to relieve the symptoms which you can buy via our online doctor service. Medication is used to treat heartburn and other symptoms which include:
- A sore throat
- Nausea - feeling sick or being sick
- A sour taste in the mouth or back of the throat
- Bad breath
Acid reflux is one of the most common gut problems with many people experiencing a little bout of reflux every so often. This can become more regular if there is an excessive amount of acid being produced in the stomach which is frequently making its way up into the oesophagus. If long term acid reflux is left untreated there can be complications.
Complications of acid reflux
Frequent exposure to stomach acid can damage the lining of the oesophagus leading to inflammation, abrasions and scars. Further conditions can develop as a result of these complications including:
- Oesophogitis - inflammation of the oesophagus lining
- Oesophageal ulcers - ulcers can cause pain, difficulty swallowing and bleeding
- Oesophageal stricture - narrowing of the oesophagus due to scar tissue buildup
- Barrett’s oesophagus - damage to the cells in the lower oesophagus
- Oesophageal cancer - in some cases damage to the cells can lead to oesophageal cancer
What causes acid reflux?
Many people have this condition but are unaware of what is happening in their body and why it is happening. Acid reflux begins in the stomach. The entrance of the stomach has a valve known as the lower esophageal sphincter muscle which opens and closes to let food pass through. If this valve isn’t working properly, for instance, not closing fully or being open for too long this is when acid reflux occurs as the contents of the stomach are able to escape through the valve and flow into the oesophagus.
Another cause of acid reflux is a hiatus hernia. As with any type of hernia, a body part has moved to an area that it doesn’t belong, with a hiatus hernia a gap is left in the diaphragm allowing for part of the stomach to move into the chest causing symptoms of acid reflux.
Many people who suffer from acid reflux find that the trigger is food. You’ll often feel heartburn or acid reflux after eating and for those who suffer with GORD this is a regular occurance when eating and drinking certain types of food and drink.
What type of foods trigger acid reflux?
Triggers can vary from person to person but for those who suffer from regular acid reflux they will get to know their triggers and avoid them. Food is a common trigger of this condition and there are specific types of food to avoid. Spicy and fatty foods can worsen the symptoms and it’s important to avoid high quantities of garlic, onion, spices, citrus and tomatoes as these are common triggers for many acid reflux sufferers. Unfortunately for coffee and chocolate lovers these are known triggers of the condition too, and you should try to reduce or cut out these from your diet if the symptoms are unbearable.
Keeping a food diary helps you to recognise which foods are triggering your reflux so that you can eliminate them from your diet and reduce to symptoms.
Overeating, eating late at night and lying down after eating can all cause a flare up of acid reflux.
Other causes of acid reflux
There are certain groups of people who are at a higher risk of developing this condition. Being overweight puts more pressure on the sphincter muscle meaning it cannot function as normal which may increase the risk of reflux. Pregnant women are also more likely to experience acid reflux as the baby presses against the stomach.
Smoking is another significant cause of acid reflux. The nicotine in smoke can relax the muscles in the throat and the sphincter muscle, and this relaxation of the muscles increases the risk of stomach acid entering the oesophagus.
How can acid reflux affect your life?
According to Rennie, 1 in 10 people experience acid reflux everyday and in most cases it is not serious or anything to worry about. But for some this can be a debilitating condition particularly if you’re experiencing daily bouts of acid reflux. Many people experience reflux when eating, and as eating is something we need to do throughout the day everyday this can mean feeling discomfort a lot of the time. Not being able enjoy food and feeling nauseousness frequently can take its toll on both your personal and working life. Not feeling your best can impact productivity and your ability to enjoy life to the full.
In a lot of cases, however, the symptoms are manageable. With the right treatment you can live normally with acid reflux.
Acid reflux treatment
There are some quick non-prescription remedies to treat the odd occurrence of acid reflux known as antacids which neutralise the acid in your stomach. These are often available in chewable or liquid form and are taken when symptoms are happening or when you know they are about to happen such as after eating. The best way of treating acid reflux is firstly by getting to know your triggers and avoiding anything that you know is a cause of your flare ups.
Certain lifestyle changes can also help in relieving the symptoms and reducing the amount of flare ups. If you’re overweight it’s important to reduce the strain on your abdomen by losing weight. Likewise, stopping smoking will also reduce symptoms and your chances of developing GORD. Stress is also a big factor in developing this condition so it’s important to keep stress levels low by practicing some relaxation techniques.
You can also try making your portion sizes smaller but eating more frequently and avoiding eating late at night. Keeping your head tilted above waist level by raising one end of your bed will also reduce the risk of acid reflux happening at night.
For GORD sufferers, prescription medication from a GP may be needed to reduce the amount of acid your stomach is producing to relieve the symptoms, these belong to a group of medicines known as proton pump inhibitors. Proton pump inhibitors block the proton pump cells from producing acid, giving the oesophagus time to heal if it’s been damaged from reflux whilst also reducing the symptoms. At Doctor-4-U you can buy this medication to control the symptoms of acid reflux. Medications available at Doctor-4-U include:
Our GMC registered online doctors will be able to find the best suitable type of proton pump inhibitor for your condition.
Am I suitable for this type of medication?
Some people may not be suitable for proton pump inhibitors and this will be reviewed on a case by case basis. You may not be suitable for this type of medication if you are allergic to any medicines which reduce the production of stomach acid, or if you are taking medication containing nelfinavir (used for HIV infection). Suitability for these medications will be determined by whether you have any other medical conditions such as severe liver and kidney problems, and if you’re taking any other medication that proton pump inhibitors may interact with.