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It is unpleasant, and often painful, and yet it is a condition that affects 70 per cent of all Australians at some stage during their life. It is gastroesophageal reflux or indigestion – or heartburn as it is more commonly referred to – and it usually makes itself felt after a large or rich meal, after eating and drinking a lot, during periods of increased anxiety or when you are pregnant.
It is often makes itself felt as a burning sensation from the lower chest up towards the neck and is caused by the acid in the stomach travelling up to the oesophagus where it can cause pain and inflammation. While usually the condition is not severe, if it persists for a few days or longer it may require medical treatment.
Prolonged exposure to gastric acid causes inflammation of the oesophagus, and this exposure has been associated with possible ulceration and haemorrhage. Prevention and management of reflux therefore is important.
If indeed reflux persists it is categorised as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD) which should be treated because it could lead to more serious health problems.
People of all ages can have GORD but occasional heartburn on the other hand is more usually associated with some of the more common daily occurrences such as eating too much or being anxious.
Food is often blamed for reflux but many people who have reflux have symptoms no matter what they eat.
Nevertheless, because food is often a trigger, it is important to recognise that large meals, fatty foods, chocolate, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes, cola drinks and peppermint have all been associated with the onset of reflux.
Many people quickly learn which foods cause reflux for them and avoid them. People prone to reflux should avoid eating a meal just before going to bed or drinking a lot of coffee at the end of the day.
Reflux is common and health professionals such as your community pharmacists know a lot about the cause and how to treat it. If you are suffering from reflux, talk to your community pharmacist who can advise on treatments and provide advice on prevention and also management of existing symptoms.