Is it heartburn or gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)?
It is common to experience heartburn or indigestion at times, especially after eating spicy foods, but how do you know whether it is just heartburn or a symptom of a more serious condition called GORD - gastro-oesophageal reflux disease?
Heartburn can be triggered by many different foods and drinks including tomatoes, citrus fruits, garlic, onions, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, caffeinated products and peppermint. Dishes high in fats and oils (animal or vegetable) often lead to heartburn, as do certain medications. Stress increases acid production and can cause heartburn. Smoking is also a major contributor.
Occasional heartburn can often be treated with over-the-counter medication and/or lifestyle changes, such as not eating food that sets off heartburn. Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. Some of the symptoms, however, are similar to those of a heart attack or heart disease.
How common is GORD?
An episode of GORD causing symptoms that include heartburn, regurgitation of food or acid, or difficulty swallowing, affects around one in five people at least once a week, according to the NHS.
It can affect adults and children, but is twice as common in men than in women.
GORD is also more common among people who are overweight or obese, pregnant, or those who eat a high-fat diet
In people with GORD the lower oesophageal sphincter muscle in the stomach (LOS) does not work properly. This valve should let food into the stomach and stop stomach acid leaking back out and into the oesophagus. With GORD, it doesn't close properly and acid can leak into the stomach, causing discomfort.
Ask yourself these questions to see if your heartburn may be caused by GORD.
- Is your heartburn occurring more than twice a week?
- Has the pattern of your heartburn changed? Is it worse than it used to be?
- Do you wake up at night with heartburn?
- Have you been having occasional heartburn that is associated with difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)?
- Do you sometimes regurgitate stomach acid into your throat and mouth?
- Do you continue to have heartburn symptoms even after taking over-the-counter medicine?
- Do you experience hoarseness or worsening of asthma after meals, lying down, or exercise; or asthma that occurs mainly at night?
- Are you experiencing unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite?
- Do your heartburn symptoms interfere with your lifestyle or daily activities?
- Do you need increasingly larger doses of non-prescription medication to control heartburn?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you may have GORD, so seek medical advice. People with GORD are at greater risk of serious complications including stricture (narrowing) of the oesophagus, and a potentially precancerous condition called Barrett's oesophagus.