What is Reflux?
Reflux goes by many other names - heartburn, GERD, GORD, indigestion or acid reflux. Whatever you know it as, acid reflux refers to the process where normal stomach acid travels up into the food pipe (oesophagus) where it shouldn't be.
Reflux may cause a burning sensation in the chest, a sour or acidic taste in the mouth or chest pain. Less commonly it can lead to "atypical" symptoms such as sore throat, cough or hoarse voice.
If reflux isn't responding to simple measures, ask your doctor about seeing a Gastroenterologist who specialises in oesophageal disorders.
Endoscopy is the initial test, and can identify conditions such as hiatus hernia and Barrett's oesophagus.
However, in most patients with reflux, the endoscopy is normal. The "gold standard" test to diagnose reflux is a 24-hour pH study, which will accurately measure the total amount, duration and timing of reflux episodes over the course of a day. This test is not always required, and a specialist in oesophageal disorders will be able to determine whether this test is appropriate for you.
Is it dangerous? What can I do about it?
Many cases are mild and can be managed with over-the-counter antacids (e.g. Gaviscon, Mylanta) and changes to your lifestyle and eating habits. You can try eating smaller meals more frequently, raising the head of the bed, and taking the evening meal earlier. Your doctor may prescribe you other medications to help the symptoms.
However in some cases acid reflux can lead to inflammation and scarring in the oesophagus (food pipe) and a condition called Barrett's oesophagus, which can increase the risk of oesophageal cancer. These can be diagnosed at endoscopy.