If the mere thought of onions, chocolate and citrus fruits makes your throat burn and your chest ache, then you’re likely someone who suffers with heartburn, indigestion and/or reflux. And while it’s easy to dismiss these painful episodes, they could be caused by an underlying condition called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, or GORD.
According to gastroenterologists Charlotte Keung and Geoffrey Hebbard from Royal Melbourne Hospital, GORD is one of the most common gastrointestinal conditions, affecting approximately 10–15 per cent of Australians. When you have this condition, the stomach contents wash back up into the oesophagus (gullet), where they may damage the oesophageal lining.
GORD is typically associated with being overweight, and does become more likely as we age. Men are more likely to suffer the condition, as are smokers. But that doesn’t mean you have to put up with it.
Writing in the Australian Prescriber, Dr Keung and Associate Professor Hebbard say, “Lifestyle improvements such as weight loss can help reduce the symptoms of GORD. The symptoms associated with GORD can be eased by eliminating foods that trigger reflux, such as those high in fats, sugars and salt, avoiding meals two to three hours before bedtime, raising the head of the bed, and stopping smoking.”
Medication can also help, and the treatment is typically short-term.
“GORD can be successfully treated by combining lifestyle modifications with medicines called proton pump inhibitor therapy (PPIs),” say the gastroenterologists.
Most people (70 to 80 per cent) will respond to this treatment and can stop taking the medication after four to eight weeks.
Symptoms of GORD
Common symptoms include heartburn, which occurs after eating but can also be brought on when you lie down or bend forward.. You may also experience a persistent cough, or regurgitation of food into the mouth.
Less common symptoms, but still worth paying attention to, include nausea, excessive belching or chest pain. These symptoms are very similar to those from a heart attack, so be sure to get a diagnosis as soon as possible.