Heartburn, indigestion, or Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease (GORD) is a very common condition that many people will experience at some stage – about half the population will have heartburn at some stage in their lives.

Heartburn causes upper abdominal and chest burning pain, which may be associated with swallowing difficulty. It often occurs after eating and it is usually worsened by lying down. Heartburn is usually eased by standing up straight and by antacids.

Heartburn occurs when stomach acid flows or “refluxes” back up the oespohagus. Repeated episodes can cause permanent damage, scarring, and even an increased risk of cancer of the oesophagus. Heartburn has also been associated with asthma and other breathing difficulties in a small number of cases.

There are several risk factors and triggers for heartburn, including:

  • Overweight
  • Pregnancy
  • Large meals
  • Acidic foods (e.g. citrus, tomatoes)
  • Spicy foods (e.g. chillies, curries)
  • Coffee, alcohol, chocolate, mints (but each person’s experience varies)

Heartburn can be diagnosed based on symptoms-only but a gastroscopy is commonly performed to confirm the diagnosis.

Heartburn can be treated with:

  • Lifestyle change – mainly weight loss and dietary changes.
  • Avoiding lying down after meals.
  • Antacids – used in mild cases only.
  • Acid suppressing medications like proton pump inhibitors (Losec etc.) – often required long-term but very effective.
  • Antibiotics – if H. Pylori is found (this is the bacteria that has been shown to cause stomach ulcers), antibiotics will be used and do help.
  • Surgery (the junction of the oespohagus and stomach is tightened) – usually reserved for cases where acid suppression does not work adequately.

Heartburn is common, mainly caused by lifestyle & diet, associated with serious complications sometimes, but treatable.