What is Reflux?

Gastro-oesophageal Relux Disease, also known as GORD, reflux or ‘heartburn’, refers to a condition where acid, which normally lives in the stomach and breaks down food, backflows into our food pipe (oesophagus) and potentially into the throat or mouth.

Reflux occurs because the normally tight muscle that keeps food and acid from flowing back from the stomach to the oesophagus (called the gastro-oesophageal sphincter)  becomes weaker.

Reflux can be caused by or made worse by:

  • Smoking

  • Alcohol

  • Caffeine

  • Pregnancy

  • Some medications

  • Medical conditions including diabetes and connective tissue disease

What are the Symptoms of Reflux?

Reflux is often called heartburn because the pain it causes often feels like it might be coming from the heart, and can sometimes be mistaken for a heart attack.

Symptoms of reflux include:

  • Burning diffuse chest pain

  • Acid taste in mouth

  • Feeling bloated

  • Burping

  • Indigestion

  • Night-time cough

  • Symptoms worse when lying down

How is Reflux Diagnosed and Treated?

Usually the diagnosis of GORD is made clinically, meaning that the doctor can diagnose it based off your symptoms and does not need to do any tests. However, if the doctor has any doubts, he may order an endoscopy. This procedure involves inserting a small camera down your oesophagus through to your stomach. This would involve visiting the hospital and getting some anaesthetic or sedation. This will allow the doctor to get a better look and ensure that nothing more sinister is going on. Other tests the doctor may consider include Barium Imaging or Oesophageal Pressure Assessment.

In terms of treatment, there are a number of ways to improve the symptoms of reflux:

  • Stop smoking

  • Try to eat small amounts more frequently rather than large meals. Also, avoid food/drink which makes symptoms worse (eg fatty meals, alcohol, tomato, chilli, coffee, chocolate)

  • Lose weight

  • Do not lie down soon after eating/prop up bed when sleeping

  • Try taking antacids, which can be bought over-the-counter at the pharmacist

If these measures do not help your symptoms, your doctor may prescribe you a type of medicine called a ‘Proton Pump Inhibitor’, which reduces the amount of acid produced by your stomach, making symptoms less noticeable.

Surgery can also be considered if your symptoms are caused by a hiatus hernia, or if symptoms are unresponsive to medical therapy.

Could This Be Something More Serious?

Sometimes, symptoms similar to reflux can be caused by more serious diseases. The most serious one is oesophageal cancer. This can also be caused by long term reflux which is untreated. It is important to see your doctor immediately if you experience any of:

  • Difficulty or pain on swallowing

  • Unintentional weight loss

  • Recurrent vomiting

  • Change in bowel motions (especially dark stools or blood in stools)

  • Symptoms beginning late in life (after 50)

If you are interested in learning more about this topic, feel free to book an appointment with one of our friendly doctors by booking online or contacting us by phone on 8269 6000.


Emergency Care Institute 2014, Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease [ONLINE], Available at: https://www.aci.health.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/273741/gord-ed-patient-factsheet-nov14.pdf (Accessed 18 April 2018)

Choosing Wisely 2016, Heartburn and Reflux [ONLINE], Available at: http://www.choosingwisely.org.au/getmedia/c827be63-537d-478f-b8da-56ea64237997/NPS-Choosing-Wisely-Fact-Sheet-PPI.pdf.aspx (Accessed 18 April 2018)

Keung, C., & Hebbard, G. (2016). The management of gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Australian Prescriber, 39(1), 6–10. http://doi.org/10.18773/austprescr.2016.003

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