Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease

Introduction

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is a common condition where stomach acid leaks out of the stomach and into the oesophagus (gullet). The oesophagus is a long tube of muscle than runs from the mouth to the stomach.

Common symptoms of GORD include:

  • heartburn – burning chest pain or discomfort that occurs after eating
  • an unpleasant sour taste in the mouth – caused by stomach acid coming back up into the mouth (known as regurgitation)
  • dysphagia – pain and difficulty swallowing

Many people experience occasional episodes of GORD, but if people have persistent and reoccurring symptoms it is normally regarded as a condition that needs treatment.

Read more about the symptoms of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.

Treatment

A step-by-step approach is usually recommended for GORD. This means that relatively uncomplicated treatments, such as changing your diet, will be tried first.

If this fails to help control symptoms then a person can be 'stepped up' to more complex treatments such as antacids, which help neutralise the effects of stomach acid.

In cases where medication fails to control symptoms, surgery may be required.

Read more about the treatment of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.

Causes

It is thought that GORD is caused by a combination of factors. The most important factor is the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) muscle not working properly.

The LOS acts like a valve, opening to let food fall into the stomach and closing to prevent acid leaking out of the stomach and into the oesophagus. In cases of GORD, the LOS does not close properly, allowing acid to leak up, out of the stomach.

Known risk factors for GORD include:

  • being overweight or obese
  • being pregnant
  • eating a high-fat diet

Read more about the causes of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.

Complications

A common complication of GORD is that the stomach acid can irritate and inflame the lining of the oesophagus, which is known as oesophagitis.

In severe cases of oesophagitis, ulcers (open sores) can form which can cause pain and make swallowing difficult.

A rarer and more serious complication of GORD is cancer developing inside the oesophagus (oesophageal cancer).

Read more about complications of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease.

Who is affected

GORD is a common digestive condition. It is estimated that one in five people will experience at least one episode of GORD a week, and that 1 in 10 people experience symptoms of GORD on a daily basis.

GORD can affect people of all ages, including children. However, most cases affect adults aged 40 or over. GORD is thought to affect both sexes equally, but males are more likely to develop complications.

Outlook

The outlook for GORD is generally good, and most people respond well to treatment with medication.

However, relapses are common, with around half of people experiencing a return of symptoms after a year. As a result, some people may require a long-term course of medication to control their symptoms.

Last updated: 22 October 2012

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