Heartburn is a burning feeling in the chest caused by stomach acid travelling up towards the throat (acid reflux). If it keeps happening, it’s called gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).
The main symptoms of acid reflux are:
- heartburn – a burning sensation in the middle of your chest
- an unpleasant sour taste in your mouth, caused by stomach acid
You may also have:
- a cough or hiccups that keep coming back
- a hoarse voice
- bad breath
- bloating and feeling sick
Your symptoms will probably be worse after eating, when lying down and when bending over.
Causes of heartburn and acid reflux
Lots of people get heartburn from time to time. There’s often no obvious reason why.
Sometimes it’s caused or made worse by:
- certain food and drink – such as coffee, alcohol, chocolate and fatty or spicy foods
- being overweight
- stress and anxiety
- some medicines, such as anti-inflammatory painkillers (like ibuprofen)
- a hiatus hernia – when part of your stomach moves up into your chest
How you can ease heartburn and acid reflux yourself
Simple lifestyle changes can help stop or reduce heartburn:
- eat smaller, more frequent meals
- slightly raise one end of your bed 10 to 20cm by putting something under your bed or mattress – make it so your chest and head are above the level of your waist, so stomach acid does not travel up towards your throat
- try to lose weight if you’re overweight
- try to find ways to relax
- have food or drink that triggers your symptoms
- eat within 3 or 4 hours before bed
- wear clothes that are tight around your waist
- smoke or use e-cigarettes
- drink too much alcohol
- stop taking any prescribed medicine without speaking to a doctor first
Your local pharmacist can help with heartburn and acid reflux so speak to a pharmacist for advice if you keep getting heartburn as they can recommend medicines called antacids that can help ease your symptoms.
It’s best to take these with food or soon after eating, as this is when you’re most likely to get heartburn. They may also work for longer if taken with food. Find a pharmacy here.
See a GP if:
- lifestyle changes and pharmacy medicines are not helping
- you have heartburn most days for 3 weeks or more
- you have other symptoms, like food getting stuck in your throat, frequently being sick or losing weight for no reason
A GP can provide stronger treatments and help rule out any more serious possible causes of your symptoms.
To ease symptoms of acid reflux, a GP may prescribe medicine that reduces how much acid your stomach makes, such as:
You may be prescribed one of these medicines for a month or to to see if your symptoms stop.
You should go back to your GP if your symptoms come back after stopping your medicine. You may need a long-term prescription.
Tests and surgery for heartburn and acid reflux
If medicines do not help or your symptoms are severe, a GP may refer you to Mr Agwunobi for a test to find out what’s causing your symptoms – this is called a gastroscopy.
What is a Gastroscopy?
A gastroscopy is a procedure where a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope is used to look inside the oesophagus (gullet), stomach and first part of the small intestine (duodenum). It’s also sometimes referred to as an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy.
The endoscope has a light and a camera at one end. The camera sends images of the inside of your oesophagus, stomach and duodenum to a monitor.
Why a gastroscopy may be used
A gastroscopy can be used to:
- investigate problems such as difficulty swallowing (dysphagia) or persistent abdominal (tummy) pain
- diagnose conditions such as stomach ulcers or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)
- treat conditions such as bleeding ulcers, a blockage in the oesophagus, non-cancerous growths (polyps) or small cancerous tumours
A gastroscopy used to check symptoms or confirm a diagnosis is known as a diagnostic gastroscopy.
The gastroscopy procedure
A gastroscopy often takes less than 15 minutes, although it may take longer if it’s being used to treat a condition. It’s usually carried out as an outpatient procedure, which means you won’t have to spend the night in hospital.
Before the procedure, your throat will be numbed with a local anaesthetic spray. You can also choose to have a sedative, if you prefer. This means you will still be awake, but will be drowsy and have reduced awareness about what’s happening.
Mr Agwunobi will carry out the procedure and will place the endoscope in the back of your mouth and ask you to swallow the first part of the tube. It will then be guided down your oesophagus and into your stomach.
The procedure isn’t usually painful, but it may be unpleasant or uncomfortable at times.
What are the risks?
A gastroscopy is a very safe procedure, but like all medical procedures it does carry a risk of complications.
Possible complications that can occur include:
- a reaction to the sedative, which can cause problems with your breathing, heart rate and blood pressure
- internal bleeding
- tearing (perforation) of the lining of your oesophagus, stomach or duodenum
Mr Agwunobi will be pleased to talk to you about the benefits and risks of surgery before your operation to ensure that you are fully informed.