Acid Reflux: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & Prevention
Have you been feeling an irritating burn in your stomach or throat? It can be an uncomfortable experience and may be due to acid reflux, also known as gastroesophageal reflux.
We’ve brought together some useful information to help you understand what acid reflux is, the treatments available to you, and how to get relief.
What is acid reflux?
Stomach acid is naturally produced in your stomach. It helps to break down food and protects the body from germs that can make you sick.1,2
Acid reflux is when stomach acid leaks and flows back up into your oesophagus or food pipe.3 This causes an internal burning sensation in the area beneath your chest and can range from being uncomfortable to quite painful. It can affect anyone, but adults tend to experience it more frequently than children.3
What are the symptoms of acid reflux?
Do you sometimes feel a burning pain just above your stomach after eating?
If yes, then you may be experiencing heartburn – which is a symptom associated with acid reflux. This discomfort can last for several hours and can get worse when you lie down or bend over.4
Another symptom of acid reflux is regurgitation, which occurs when your stomach acid comes back up into your mouth and produces a sharp, sour taste.3
Other symptoms of acid reflux may include:3,5
- Feeling or being sick
- Difficulty swallowing solid foods
- Throat pain and hoarseness
- Bad breath
- Bloating and belching
What causes acid reflux?
Acid reflux can be caused by controllable and uncontrollable factors. Controllable factors may be lifestyle-related and are often preventable. This can include:3,4,6
- Being overweight or obese
- Taking certain medicines (check with your doctor)
Some foods can also trigger stomach-acid issues, so it’s also important to monitor your diet. Eating too many fatty foods can cause acid reflux as the stomach takes longer to dispose of stomach acids after digesting a fatty meal. Other foods linked to acid reflux include:3,4,6
- Salt-heavy foods
- Fatty foods
- Citrus foods
Certain health conditions are uncontrollable risk factors for acid reflux, like pregnancy – where changes to the body, such as extra pressure placed on the stomach by the growing baby, can cause acid reflux.3,4,6 Your doctor can identify any other conditions that may be relevant to you.
How is acid reflux diagnosed?
In most cases, your doctor will be able to diagnose acid reflux based on typical symptoms of heartburn and regurgitation.5 Your doctor may order further tests if they are concerned about any of your symptoms or if the symptoms don't get better with treatment.5 This can include:
- Endoscopy – A long, thin flexible tube with a light and video camera is inserted down your throat to examine the oesophagus for complications and exclude the possibility of other conditions5,7
- Barium swallow – An x-ray is taken as you swallow a mixture of barium sulphate powder and water, which illuminates the oesophagus and enables your doctor to check the digestive tract for problems7,8
- Oesophageal pH monitoring – A monitor is inserted into your oesophagus to monitor your regulation of pH for 24–48 hours5,9
- Oesophageal manometry – A thin tube which measures pressure along the oesophagus is inserted through your mouth or nose to show whether the muscles or sphincter are working properly5,7
What are the treatments for acid reflux?
There are several treatments available to ease acid reflux, including prescription medication and over-the-counter medications:
- Antacids work by neutralising the acid produced by your stomach. The active ingredients that achieve this include calcium carbonate, magnesium carbonate or aluminium hydroxide which are all effective remedies for indigestion.10,11 They work best if taken 1–3 hours after a meal10
- Alginates work by forming a protective layer on top of the contents in the stomach, creating a physical barrier to help prevent stomach acid from getting up into the oesophagus12
- H2 blockers work by reducing the amount of acid your stomach makes10
Gaviscon Dual Action is a medication that combines the benefits of both an antacid and an alginate. This means that, in addition to neutralising stomach acid, it forms a protective barrier that helps stop excess acid from entering the oesophagus. Gaviscon Dual Action Liquid starts to relieve heartburn from 4 minutes*.13,14 Gaviscon doesn’t just help with heartburn, but also relieves indigestion, providing fast, soothing and lasting relief.15
If symptoms don’t go away with other treatment, you should see your doctor. They may suggest another treatment such as a proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) – these work more strongly than H2 blockers to lower the amount of acid your stomach makes.5,10
Can acid reflux be treated with surgery?
A doctor or specialist will decide if surgery is right for you. Surgery is only an option for a small selection of people with severe symptoms that don’t get better with medication, or those who can’t take long-term medication.3,5
Gastric bypass surgery or gastric banding may also reduce symptoms of acid reflux through weight loss.5
What happens if acid reflux is left untreated?
If left untreated, acid reflux may lead to further complications,3,9 so it’s very important to appropriately treat the symptoms of acid reflux to prevent the risk of further complications.
How can you prevent acid reflux?
As mentioned, acid reflux can be caused by controllable lifestyle factors, so you can help prevent it by adjusting parts of your lifestyle that are known to be related. You can try:5,6,16,17–19
- Quitting smoking
- Not overeating
- Avoiding foods that trigger your reflux (e.g., fatty or spicy foods, tomato products, mint or chocolate)
- Avoiding caffeinated drinks or alcohol
- Taking steps to reduce stress
- Avoid eating 2–3 hours before bedtime if you experience symptoms at night
- Checking with your doctor if any medications you are taking may be contributing to reflux
When do you need to see a doctor?
If you have any concerns about your symptoms, you should talk with your doctor. If medications and lifestyle modifications are not working and your acid reflux has become more frequent or more severe, it’s important to consult a GP.
You should also see your doctor if you:3
- have chest pain
- find it difficult or painful to swallow
- are losing weight
- are vomiting repeatedly or are vomiting blood
- are taking medicines that may be causing heartburn
- notice that exercise makes your symptoms worse
Of course, if you’re ever unsure or have further questions regarding acid reflux, your healthcare professional is always the best source of information to help you manage your symptoms.