An introduction to acid reflux
Acid reflux is a symptom of the digestive system arising as a result of acid in the stomach leaking backwards and upwards into the oesophagus (gullet) and sometimes, as far as the mouth.
It is a relatively common complaint - many people have experienced bouts of acid reflux after eating too much, or food that is too spicy or fatty. In these situations, acid reflux is a ‘normal’ symptom and does not indicate an underlying health problem.
Others however, may be troubled by repeated episodes of acid reflux, making these painful or uncomfortable experiences. Recurring episodes of acid reflux, without an underlying cause, is known medically as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).
What causes acid reflux?
In normal circumstances, acid is prevented from entering the gullet because of a type of valve lying at the junction of the gullet and stomach. This valve, made from muscle, normally sends food in one direction, but in certain circumstances, can leak.
When it does leak, acidic contents of the stomach travel backwards and upwards, towards the mouth. This gives rise to a number of symptoms.
A number of factors and health conditions can encourage this leakage. These include:
It is normal for newborn babies to show a degree of reflux. This is caused by an immaturity in their digestive system and they grow out of the condition within a few months.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of acid reflux are distinctive and characteristic, and hence usually easy to recognise. They share many common characteristics with symptoms of indigestion but typically worsen when lying down flat.
Common symptoms of acid reflux are:
Heartburn is perhaps the most common symptom. It is a dull ache behind the breastbone and is so termed because some people may mistake this pain for pain coming from the heart (angina or a heart attack). Conversely, some people with these heart conditions may think that are simply suffering from indigestion when something more serious is taking place.
How can herbal medicines help?
Symptoms of acid reflux can often be improved by making small adjustments to your lifestyle and eating habits such as eating smaller meals, avoiding spicy foods and making sure that you do not eat too late in the evening (before bedtime).
Some people however, need a bit more help and this is where herbal remedies can play a role. Herbs have been used to treat a variety of digestive complaints for many years. These digestive herbs include artichoke, dandelion, boldo, all classed as bitter stomach herbs.
Ali's TOP TIP: Digestisan oral drops is a combination of digestive bitter herbs including Artichoke, Dandelion and Boldo and is a licensed herbal remedy for relieving symptoms of indigestion. For best results, take 15 minutes before each meal and do not disguise the bitter taste.
When should I approach my doctor?
Most people with acid reflux should be able to manage their symptoms by changes in diet and lifestyle, and when needed, the use of herbal indigestion remedies.
However, if symptoms persist, a visit to the doctor may be necessary in order to confirm the diagnosis. Your doctor may prescribe one of a number medicines, from antacids to neutralise stomach acid, to proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs) to prevent the stomach from producing acid. In severe cases, surgery may be recommended to strengthen the sphincter joining the stomach and the oesophagus.
In addition, there are certain situations when it is strongly recommended that you see a doctor. These are if:
- You are concerned about your condition, or fear there is an underlying problem causing your symptoms
- You have unexpectedly lost weight
- You are regularly vomiting, particularly if there is blood in your vomit
- There is blood in your stools
- You feel that you are taking medication which is causing or aggravating your symptoms of acid reflux.