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What is acid reflux?

3rd October 2019

Acid reflux is a common condition that affects plenty of people occasionally and is often triggered by certain food, drink and lifestyle factors. You’ll know you have acid reflux if you are experiencing a burning sensation in the middle of your chest (known as heartburn) and an unpleasant taste in your mouth. Other symptoms include bloating, bad breath, feeling sick or having hiccups that keep coming back.

Acid reflux is often something that only affects people on the odd occasion and does not warrant any cause for concern. However, if you are experiencing symptoms more than twice a week then you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

What causes acid reflux?

There is a valve at the entrance of your stomach called the lower oesophagal sphincter (LES), which is a small ring of muscle. When functioning entirely correctly, the LES closes as soon as food passes through it. However, in people who suffer from acid reflux, the LES either doesn’t close all the way or it opens too often, so that acid from your stomach is able to pass through it.

When the stomach valve is not fully closed, stomach acid is able to make its way into your oesophagus, which causes the chest pain and sour taste that we associate with acid reflux. This is why acid reflux is often worse when you are lying down or bent over; because gravity does its job in helping to make the stomach acid into your oesophagus.

Even though the actual cause of acid reflux is the non-closure of the LES, there are a number of different factors that can trigger symptoms, and these can be different for everyone. However, the most common trigger is food and drink, because these cause the stomach valve to open. Foods particularly likely to cause acid reflux are spicy foods, fatty foods, foods high in salt and foods low in fibre. Drinks that can trigger symptoms include caffeine, alcohol and anything acidic or carbonated (like juice or fizzy drinks).

It can also be linked to the way you consume food and drink. Eating large meals, snacking close to bedtime, or bending over or lying down after eating can all make acid reflux worse.

It’s not just about food and drink though. Acid reflux is also linked to a number or other lifestyle factors and you might notice symptoms more often if you’re overweight, pregnant or a smoker. It can also be caused by medications like painkillers and muscle relaxers.

How to treat heartburn and acid reflux

Although the condition is not particularly dangerous, it can be unpleasant and since it’s linked to a number of food and drink choices, symptoms can be fairly frequent and can stop you enjoying things.

There are a number of effective treatments for acid reflux, available either by prescription or over the counter. Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs) work by reducing the amount of stomach acid that is produced and popular medications in this category include omeprazole, lansoprazole, esomeprazole and pantoprazole.

H2 blockers work in a similar way, by inhibiting chemical reactions in the cells which produce stomach acid to decrease production. The most common medication that falls into the H2 blocker category is ranitidine, which is available by prescription or over-the-counter as the main ingredient in Zantac Relief.

There are also a variety of over-the-counter treatments including antacids. These work to neutralise the acid in your stomach so that if it does work its way into the oesophagus, it won’t cause the same pain and discomfort as normal.

Along with effective acid reflux medication options, there are a number of things you can do yourself to help ease symptoms. Try to eat smaller meals and avoid food or drink that you’ve noticed trigger your symptoms.

Don’t eat within 3 or 4 hours of going to bed and try to raise part of your bed so that your chest and head are at a higher level than your waist. Putting something under your bed or mattress at the head end should do the trick.

If you are following good practices and still noticing persistent acid reflux symptoms then you should visit your GP (or another medical professional) to see if your symptoms are linked to anything else.