Other name: peptic oesophagitis
The reflux of stomach contents into the oesophagus (tube leading to the stomach) is known as gastro-oesophageal reflux (GOR). The consequence is a chemical insult to the oesophagus from acid, enzymes, and sometimes bile.
Reflux occurs commonly, but infrequently, in most people, and probably causes little harm because the natural movement (peristalsis) of the oesophagus clears the acid and food back into the stomach. When acid reflux from the stomach is frequent and persistent, the result is damage to the lining of the oesophagus. This is known as reflux oesophagitis or peptic oesophagitis.
A hiatus hernia, while commonly associated with reflux, is not essential for reflux to occur.
The major symptoms are heartburn (burning feeling rising up the back of the breastbone), regurgitation of acid and food into the mouth with a sour taste (waterbrash), and burning pain on swallowing food (oesophageal sensitivity). Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing (dysphagia), irritation of the throat and chronic cough. Lung problems such as asthma and even lung infections can occur.
The diagnosis of reflux is usually made by a combination of the typical clinical presentation in conjunction with investigations such as a barium swallow x-ray or gastroscopy.
The treatment of oesophageal reflux consists of weight reduction (if overweight), avoidance of foods causing the symptoms, avoidance of activities which cause the symptoms (e.g. lying flat or exercising after a meal), and the use of medication to reduce acid and help clear it from the oesophagus. Surgery has an increasingly important role.
See section on diet for gastro-oesophageal reflux under Diet Information.