Acid reflux is where acid and other stomach contents are regurgitated into the throat and mouth, causing soreness and an unpleasant sour taste at the back of the throat. Regular acid reflux is often a symptom of a condition called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) where acid from the stomach leaks up into the oesophagus. This often occurs as a result of the ring of muscle at the bottom of the oesophagus becoming weak and ceasing to close immediately after allowing food into the stomach.
Self-help prevention tips
Common triggers of acid reflux are foods such as chocolate, tomatoes, fatty or spicy food, coffee and alcohol. The NHS recommends avoiding these and any other triggers of your symptoms. It is also advised that you should eat smaller and more frequent meals as opposed to three large meals a day – especially avoiding having your largest meal of the day in the evening.
It is also recommended that you should avoid wearing any items of clothing tight around the stomach and abdomen – these may aggravate your symptoms further.
GORD can also be aggravated by being overweight. By losing weight and maintaining a healthy balanced diet you may be able to reduce acid reflux. Similarly, the NHS also recommends giving up smoking as this can irritate your digestive system and make your acid reflux worse.
By raising the head of your bed by up to 20cm you may also reduce the symptoms of GORD at night. However, you should make sure to use a block under one end of your bed to do this as using extra pillows may put extra strain on your stomach.
However one of the biggest causes of acid reflux is the side-effects from medication, especially non-steroidal anti-inflammatories. Taking NSAIDs and other medications long term might be causing the gut inflammation, so check the leaflet that comes with your drug prescription, or look for natural alternatives.
Common medications for acid reflux
There are some common over the counter medications that can be taken to reduce the effects of heartburn and GORD symptoms of acid reflux. There are several main types recommended by the NHS; antacids (like gaviscon) which neutralise the effects stomach acid and alginates that produce a coating that protects the stomach and oesophagus from stomach acid. It is also possible to procure low-dose proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) over the counter, though you can also get a prescription from your GP for higher dose versions if the problem persists. The two most common PPIs are omeprazole and lansoprazole.
Proton pump inhibitors are designed to reduce the amount of acid produced by your stomach. Side effects from these medications are typically mild, although they can include headaches, diarrhoea or constipations, nausea, abdominal pain, dizziness and rash. However, long term usage should be avoided.
If PPIs don’t work for you, you may then be prescribed a medication called a H2-receptor antagonist (H2RA) as an alternative or alongside a PPI on a short-term basis. Working in a similar way to a PPI, a H2RA also works to reduce the amount of acid produced by your stomach and side effects from this medication are uncommon.
Surgery is occasionally an option if all self-help measures and medications fail. The main procedure the NHS will perform if surgery is necessary is called a laparoscopic Nissen fundoplication (LNF) which is a type of keyhole surgery. It is designed to tighten the ring of muscle at the base of the oesophagus in order to stop stomach acid leaking up from the stomach.