What is Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease?
The word gastro-oesophageal, is referring to the stomach and oesophagus; the smooth muscular ‘pipe’ that your food and drink passes down. Reflux is the stomach acid coming up the oesophagus to the pharangeal area (lower throat), which causes a burning sensation in the chest, throat and a nasty bitter taste in the mouth.
Why do I have Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease?
Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) can occur if the nervous systems controlling the sphincter of the oesophagus into the stomach and the downward waving moving of the oesophagus, are out of sync. Certain types of food and drink and lifestyle choices can also cause laxity of the sphincter which is a ring of muscle which helps to close the tube, preventing acid from coming up.
When food travels down the oesophagus to the stomach, why does anything come back up? There are 5 things that should prevent food and acid travelling up the oesophagus; the diaphragm creates a bit of a sphincter, gravity, the long length of the oesophagus and the narrowing of the oesophagus at the stomach, the oesophagus does not open to the stomach at the top but, at the side, this serves to protect from food coming up under pressure of the abdomen, such as when we laugh, walk or cough. Failure of any of these can lead to GORD.
Certain food and drinks can take longer to digest and end up sitting in the stomach for a long time, or if we over-eat, the natural protection barriers are under pressure and so acid coming up is less restricted.
The reason it hurts is that stomach acid (produced to break down food and kill allergens and bacteria we may have ingested by mistake) literally burns the oesophagus, as it does not have the protective barrier the stomach has. This leads to soreness of the oesophagus as it has literally been burnt each time this happens.
How do I treat Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease?
You can retrain the nervous systems needed for swallowing and staying in the stomach, to co-operate again by drinking small sips of tea or chewing gum- as this allows us to take small swallows to practice things going down and staying down, literally retraining the system.
Relaxation techniques can help the diaphragm & sphincter work more efficiently.
Taking care of what you eat and the amount you eat at one time, can also help; this may include reducing coffee, chocolate, hot spices, sugary sweets, alcohol, though everybody is different.
Cigarette smoking causes the brain to think it’s about to eat, producing more gastric juices and aggravating the condition as well as causing the sphincter to become lax.
Pregnancy and some contraceptive pill hormones can cause sphincter laxity as well, pregnancy pushes the stomach up against the diaphragm causing further symptoms.
Taking medications to reduce & neutralise acid over a long period is not ideal, we need the gastric acid to break down protein and kill unwanted bacteria and allergens. It can also lead to the stomach producing more and more acid to cope with digestion, so can be detrimental.
Propping yourself up with pillows to around 30 degrees is good to help you sleep as it reduces pressure on the sphincter when you are lying down.
Osteopathic treatment can help you to relax, treat the related structures, give individual advice and exercises.
Is Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease really that bad?
Having this disease for a prolonged period can lead to Barrett’s oesophagus, which needs to be checked regularly as this can lead to cancer. If you experience weight loss, bleeding, excessive pain, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, or persistent, severe symptoms, see your GP.