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Acid Reflux

Acid reflux (also known as heart burn, acid indigestion and gastric reflux) is one of the most common digestive health conditions, affecting almost one in five people in the UK.

What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux occurs when acid from your stomach travels the wrong way back up into your oesophagus (food pipe) – usually due to the valve between your stomach and oesophagus not functioning properly. This can cause heartburn or acid in the back of your mouth.

Sometimes small amounts of stomach acid travel as far up as the throat and is sometimes called ‘silent reflux’ as many people do not experience symptoms of heartburn.

What are the symptoms of acid reflux?

Symptoms of acid reflux or heartburn can include:

  • Burning sensation in your upper abdomen, chest or throat – this is caused by the refluxed stomach acid burning the sensitive lining of the oesophagus
  • Sour or acidic taste in your mouth
  • Hoarse or croaky voice
  • Sore, dry or sensitive throat
  • Nausea, or vomiting
  • Frequently clearing your throat
  • Problems swallowing
  • Sudden coughing
  • Breathing problems – including a chronic cough or asthma

Reflux symptoms happen during the day or night, but typically occur first thing in the morning or during the night when they can cause people to wake up with the discomfort.

What causes acid reflux?

Many factors increase the risk, frequency and/or severity of bouts of acid reflux, including:

  • Eating large meals and eating a lot in the evening
  • Sometimes diet does trigger symptoms, such as fried, fatty or spicy food
  • Drinking caffeinated or fizzy drinks
  • Smoking
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Eating on the run
  • Weight gain
  • Not sitting upright when eating
  • Pregnancy – many women can develop heartburn near the end of pregnancy as the baby pushes upwards on the stomach, and can continue after birth
  • Hiatus Hernia – when part of the stomach moves upwards into the chest by squeezing through a hole (hiatus) in the diaphragm increasing the risk of acid reflux
  • Stooping or bending forwards

However, many people suffer from acid reflux when there are no clear lifestyle causes or other factors.

How is acid reflux diagnosed?

If you have symptoms from what you think is acid reflux, see your doctor. To make a diagnosis your doctor will ask about your reflux symptoms and the length of time you have had them. They will assess whether you need to take acid-suppressant medication.

If your doctor thinks you require long term medication or your symptoms are not responding to treatment, they may request the following:

  • Gastroscopy – a thin, flexible tube is passed through your mouth and down the oesophagus, stomach and start of the small intestine to rule out inflammation
  • Barium Meal – drinking barium liquid which will show up your oesophagus, stomach and part of the small intestine on X-ray to identify a hiatus hernia or cause of narrowing

How is acid reflux treated?

There are two main options for treating acid reflux:

  • Lifestyle alterations
  • Medication

You and your doctor can discuss which treatment type would be best for you.

If you’re unsure what treatment you should go for, or the above treatments don’t work for you, our team of expert specialists are here to help.

This content has been checked and approved by

Dr Edward Seward  ›

Mr Edward Seward is an established consultant gastroenterologist at King Edward VII’s Hospital. He specialises in endoscopy (particularly colonoscopy), inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome.

Find your specialist in acid reflux at King Edward VII's Hospital

If you suspect you have acid reflux and you’re seeking an expert opinion, you can find the UK’s leading acid reflux specialists here at King Edward VII’s Hospital. Our consultants are hand-picked for you, making it easy to access the best possible care.

Mr Nicholas (Nick) Boyle  ›
Special interests include:
Laparoscopic surgery (+ 6) more

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