Man reacting to heartburn caused by acid reflux

Acid Reflux: Causes & Symptoms

What is acid reflux?
What are the symptoms of acid reflux?
What causes acid reflux?

What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux is the reverse passage of gastric contents into the oesophagus (‘food pipe’) which can cause heartburn. The terms are often used interchangeably, but acid reflux is the actual action of part of the stomach contents traveling back up the oesophagus (sometimes into the throat and even into the mouth), while heartburn is the uncomfortable feeling as a result of that action.

If you have frequent acid reflux, you may have GORD - Gastro Oesophageal Reflux Disease. It might sound scary, but in most cases GORD is not a serious condition and is experienced by one in ten people every day. However persistent episodes can damage the lining of the oesophagus, so have a chat with your GP or pharmacist if you’re at all concerned.

Spicy curry with hot chillies on table

What are the symptoms of acid reflux?

Acid reflux can be pain free, but it can cause:

  • A burning sensation or heat in your chest or throat usually after eating
  • A hot sour or salty tasting fluid in the back of your throat and difficulty swallowing
  • Pressure behind the breastbone
  • Feeling bloated
  • Needing to burp
  • Feeling/being sick (nausea)
  • Cramps
  • Bad breath
  • Hiccups

I get a burning feeling in my chest and the back of my throat sometimes after eating late at night.

What causes acid reflux?

At the entrance to your stomach is a ring of muscle or a valve called the sphincter muscle. It is supposed to open to allow food to pass through, and close afterwards.  If it doesn’t close properly or opens too often, then acid from the stomach could escape.

Acid reflux normally happens when we eat certain foods. Fried or greasy foods, high fat meats and whole milk dairy products can cause the valve to relax. Caffeinated drinks, coffee, alcohol and spicy foods can all stimulate excess acid production. Eating large meals, lying down straight after eating or snacking close to bedtime are also common triggers of reflux.

Being overweight means you can be more likely to suffer from reflux because of increased pressure on your stomach, which can force open the valve after a meal.

Some people find acid reflux is worse when they are stressed.

Acid reflux also happens due to a weakness of the sphincter muscle, or when the stomach produces too much acid and not enough protective mucous. There is also something called a hiatus hernia; due to a gap in the diaphragm, parts of the stomach can move into the chest which increases the risk of reflux.

Taking pain relievers such as ibuprofen, some muscle relaxers, or blood pressure medications can also stimulate acid reflux.

Acid reflux also happens due to a weakness of the sphincter muscle, or when the stomach produces too much acid and not enough protective mucous. There is also something called a hiatus hernia; due to a gap in the diaphragm, parts of the stomach can move into the chest which increases the risk of reflux.

Mixed meat being grilled on a barbecue

Suffering from acid reflux? Read some treatment tips to help relieve the symptoms of acid reflux.