Acid reflux - Introduction

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is a common condition, where acid from the stomach leaks up into the oesophagus (gullet).

It usually occurs as a result of the ring of muscle at the bottom of the oesophagus becoming weakened. Read more about the causes of GORD.

GORD causes symptoms such as heartburn and an unpleasant taste in the back of the mouth. It may just be an occasional nuisance for some people, but for others it can be a severe, lifelong problem.

GORD can often be controlled with self-help measures and medication. Occasionally, surgery to correct the problem may be needed.

This topic focuses on GORD in adults. There are separate topics on reflux in babies and heartburn in pregnancy.

This page covers:

Symptoms of GORD

What to do if you have GORD

When to see your GP

Treatments for GORD

Complications of GORD

Symptoms of GORD

Symptoms of GORD can include:

  • heartburn (an uncomfortable burning sensation in the chest that often occurs after eating)
  • acid reflux (where stomach acid comes back up into your mouth and causes an unpleasant, sour taste)
  • oesophagitis (a sore, inflamed oesophagus)
  • bad breath
  • bloating and belching
  • feeling or being sick
  • pain when swallowing and/or difficulty swallowing

Read more about the symptoms of GORD.

What to do if you have GORD

You can often control the symptoms of GORD by making some lifestyle changes and taking over-the-counter medication.

See treatments for GORD for more information.

You don't necessarily need to see your GP if you only have symptoms occasionally. Ask your pharmacist for advice on treatments.

When to see your GP

Visit your GP if you're worried about your symptoms, or if:

  • you have symptoms several times a week
  • over-the-counter medications aren't helping
  • your symptoms are severe
  • you have difficulty swallowing
  • you have possible signs of a more serious problem, such as persistent vomiting, vomiting blood or unexplained weight loss

Your GP will usually be able to diagnose GORD based on your symptoms, although they may refer you for some tests.

Read more about diagnosing GORD.

Treatments for GORD

The main treatments for GORD are:

  • self-help measures ‐ this includes eating smaller but more frequent meals, avoiding any foods or drinks that trigger your symptoms, raising the head of your bed, and keeping to a healthy weight
  • over-the-counter medicines ‐ including antacids (such as Rennie) and alginates (such as Gaviscon)
  • stronger prescription medicines ‐ including proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) and H2-receptor antagonists (H2RAs)

You may only need to take medication when you experience symptoms, although long-term treatment may be needed if the problem continues.

Surgery to stop stomach acid leaking into your oesophagus may be recommended if medication isn't helping, or you don't want to take medication on a long-term basis.

Read more about the treatments for GORD.

Complications of GORD

If you have GORD for a long time, stomach acid can damage your oesophagus and cause further problems.

These include:

  • ulcers (sores) on the oesophagus ‐ these may bleed and make swallowing painful
  • the oesophagus becoming scarred and narrowed ‐ this can make swallowing difficult and may require an operation to correct it
  • changes in the cells lining the oesophagus (Barrett's oesophagus) ‐ very occasionally, oesophageal cancer can develop from these cells, so you may need to be closely monitored

Read more about the complications of GORD.

Find this article useful?

Why not sign up to our mailing list and receive regular articles and tips about IBD to your inbox?