Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD), more commonly known as heartburn or acid reflux, is a condition where stomach refluxes back into the lower part of the oesophagus (gullet).
Almost everyone has experienced heartburn at some point, in fact it's one of the most prevalent chronic diseases in the world with 40% of adults reporting symptoms in any 6-12 month period. In most cases it lasts only a day or two, but for some, acid reflux can become a chronic, debilitating feature of daily life.
What causes acid reflux?
At the lower end of the gullet a ring of muscle called the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS) normally acts as a valve to prevent acid contents of the stomach leaking (refluxing) into the lower part of the oesophagus. However, if the LES fails to function properly, stomach acid and bile juices can flow into the oesophagus, giving rise to heartburn and other symptoms of GORD.
Unlike stomach cells which secrete a special mucous to protect them from acid digestion, the lining of the oesophagus has no such protection and is therefore vulnerable to the effects of acid and bile salts. This can result in inflammation and – if prolonged – ulceration and bleeding.
It is not known why the LES fails to work properly, but we know that GORD is more common in males, during pregnancy, smokers, heavy drinkers and in those who are obese. In addition, if you have a hiatus hernia (when part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm), you have an increased chance of developing reflux disease.
LOS functioning properly »
Acts as a barrier, preventing stomach acids from entering the oesophagus. No acid reflux symptoms
« LOS is weak
Fails to prevent stomach acid from flowing up into the oesophagus, causing the burning irritation symptoms of acid reflux