Acid reflux (heartburn)
How many times have you, or someone you know, complained about problems following eating? How often has the immediate response been: “Oh, it’s just a bit of heartburn”? That “bit of heartburn” is actually a symptom of a very common disease known as acid reflux or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).
Acid reflux occurs when your stomach contents back up into the oesophagus or gullet. There is a valve at the entrance to the stomach which is actually a ring of muscle known as the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS). When functioning normally, the LOS closes once food has passed through it. However, if it doesn’t (or can’t) close all the way or stays open for longer than it should, the acid produced in your stomach backs up again into your gullet. A common symptom is a burning pain in the chest – so-called “heartburn”. It may be occasional, but if it occurs more than twice a week, you probably have acid reflux disease or GORD.
Other symptoms that suggest possible GORD include:
- Bringing up an acidic tasting fluid into the throat or mouth, especially when you bend or lie down
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), or the sensation of having a permanent lump in the throat
- Hiccoughs you can’t stop
- Hoarseness and a persistent cough or fluctuations in the voice
In more serious cases, GORD may well be caused by a stomach abnormality known as a hiatus hernia.
This would mean that the upper part of the stomach and the LOS have moved above the diaphragm – the muscle separating the stomach from the chest. The result is that acid backs up into the oesophagus, causing acid reflux symptoms.
While lifestyle changes and over-the-counter medication can solve the problem of acid reflux, if you have the more serious GORD, surgical intervention may well be necessary.
If you’re suffering from chronic acid reflux symptoms, don’t worry; expert, patient-focused help is at hand! Conscientious, a good listener and easy to talk to, consultant surgeon Mr Achal Khanna is based at Milton Keynes University Hospital as well as the Saxon Clinic and Blakelands Hospital, in Milton Keynes.