Acid reflux causes and treatment

Everything you need to know


Acid reflux is more widely referred to as heartburn or acid indigestion and is typically experienced as a burning sensation in the chest. This is felt internally behind the breastbone, usually after eating. Acid reflux is more prevalent in western countries due to the increased likelihood of obesity and associated lifestyle factors triggering the symptoms associated with heartburn.


The main symptom of acid reflux is a burning pain in the chest, although other potential symptoms such as bloating, burping, hiccups and dysphagia have also been identified. The burning sensation can reach as high as the neck and throat, causing a bitter or sour taste. The pain and discomfort resulting from heartburn usually increases when someone suffering from it bends over or lies down.

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The stomach contains strong hydrochloric acid, which is necessary to facilitate the effective digestion of food and protect against bacteria. A protective lining in the stomach prevents it from being corroded by the acid. In contrast, the oesophagus (food pipe) does not have this layer, and instead, a ring of muscle at the entrance to the stomach prevents acid from moving up into the oesophagus. This muscle (known as the lower oesophageal sphincter) acts as a valve that closes at the stomach entrance as soon as food passes through, however, when this stops working correctly the hydrochloric acid flows up the oesophagus and acid reflux is experienced.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD or GORD) is the term used to describe the condition when acid reflux occurs more than twice a week. If left untreated, this can potentially lead to more serious conditions, including the risk of cancer.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

Obesity, smoking (active or passive) and low physical exercise are all lifestyle factors attributed to an increased risk of suffering from acid reflux. Food and eating habits have also been associated with the condition. Citrus fruit, tomato, mint, garlic, onions, spicy food, alcohol and fizzy drinks are the most common food types which can lead to the occurrence of heartburn. Eating large meals, lying down after eating a meal, high intake of salt and low intake of fibre have all been linked to acid reflux. The condition could also be caused by taking certain medications such as painkillers, antihistamines, sedatives or antidepressants.


Making lifestyle changes is usually recommended to control and minimise the occurrence of acid reflux. Certain food and drinks found by the individual to trigger their heartburn can be eliminated from their diet. It is also recommended to eat smaller meals and not to lie down two to three hours after eating. Additionally, losing weight for those who are obese and stopping smoking could also help to reduce the likelihood of experiencing acid reflux.

Zantac tablets, which contain the active ingredient ranitidine hydrochloride, are an H2 receptor antagonist that reduces acid production in the stomach and prevents excess acid moving into the oesophagus, which allows it to heal. This medication can be used to prevent or treat heartburn, works effectively within 30 minutes, and relieves the symptoms for up to 12 hours. One tablet should be taken up to twice daily with or without food as required. Side effects of these tablets are uncommon and usually mild if experienced at all. These can include; headache, nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, and a possible allergic reaction including anaphylaxis (trouble breathing or swelling of airway). It is advised to consult a GP if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, are taking any other medication, have problems with kidney function or have had an allergic reaction to Zantac before. It is not recommended to use Zantac for more than 14 days continually.

Losec capsules, with the active ingredient omeprazole, are a proton pump inhibitor that decreases the production of stomach acid to settle the symptoms of acid reflux. They are generally more effective than Zantac and can suppress stomach acid for up to 24hrs, allowing the oesophagus to heal. The recommended dosage is one capsule daily, although this can be doubled if the lower dose is not effective. The capsules are usually most effective when taken for 4-5 days to fully treat the symptoms. Losec is largely well tolerated, and any side effects are usually mild and reversible. The most common side effects include; headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, abdominal pain, wind (flatulence). Less common side effects associated with this medication are; dizziness, tiredness, difficulty sleeping, blurred vision, taste disturbances. Losec is not suitable for use during pregnancy, although it is suitable during breastfeeding.

You can do an online acid reflux consultation and request a course of the branded medicine Losec or Zantac on prescription without having to see your GP face to face. Both medicines also come in generic versions which are Omeprazole and Ranitidine and work in exactly the same way, the only difference being the generic versions are cheaper to buy.


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