Heartburn and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD)

Gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) is a common condition, where acid from the stomach leaks up into the oesophagus (gullet). GORD causes symptoms such as heartburn and an unpleasant taste in the back of the mouth. This page has information on GORD for people aged 16 years or older.

Symptoms of GORD

GORD may just be an occasional nuisance for some people. But for others, GORD can be a severe, lifelong problem.

Symptoms of GORD can include:

When to see your GP 

Visit your GP if you're worried about your symptoms, or if:

Your GP may be able to diagnose GORD based on your symptoms, or they may refer you for some tests.

Treatments for GORD 

You can often control the symptoms of GORD by making some lifestyle changes and taking over-the-counter medication.

You don't necessarily need to see your GP if you only have symptoms occasionally.  Ask your pharmacist for advice on treatments. 

The main treatments for GORD are:

  • self-help measures – this includes eating smaller but more frequent meals, avoiding any foods or drinks that trigger your symptoms, raising the head of your bed, and keeping to a healthy weight
  • over-the-counter medicines – ask your pharmacist for advice
  • stronger prescription medicines – if necessary, your GP will discuss any medication with you

You may only need to take medication when you experience symptoms, although long-term treatment may be needed if the problem continues.

Surgery to stop stomach acid leaking into your oesophagus may be recommended if your symptoms are not controlled by medication.

In such circumstances you will usually discuss the treatment options with a specialist to agree the best option for you.

Causes of GORD  

The oesophagus (gullet) is the tube that takes food and drink you have swallowed from the month to the stomach.

GORD is usually caused by the ring of muscle at the bottom of the oesophagus becoming weakened.

Normally, this ring of muscle opens to let food into your stomach and closes to stop stomach acid leaking back up into your oesophagus.

But for people with GORD, stomach acid is able to pass back up into the oesophagus. This causes symptoms of GORD, which can include heartburn and acid reflux (see symptoms section above).

It's not always clear what causes this ring of muscle to become weakened, but certain things can increase the risk of it happening (see below).

The following factors may increase your risk of developing GORD:

  • being overweight or obese – this can place increased pressure on your stomach and weaken the muscles at the bottom of the oesophagus
  • eating large amounts of fatty foods – the stomach takes longer to get rid of stomach acid after digesting a fatty meal and the resulting excess acid may leak up into the oesophagus
  • smoking, alcohol, coffee or chocolate – these may relax the muscles at the bottom of the oesophagus
  • pregnancy – temporary changes in hormone levels and increased pressure on your stomach during pregnancy can cause GORD
  • hiatus hernia – when part of your stomach pushes up through your diaphragm (thin sheet of muscle between the chest and tummy)
  • gastroparesis – when the stomach takes longer to get rid of stomach acid, which means excess acid can leak up into the oesophagus
  • certain medicines – some medicines can cause GORD or make the symptoms worse, including calcium-channel blockers (used to treat high blood pressure), nitrates (used to treat angina) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • stress

GORD can sometimes affect several members of the same family. It's been suggested that the genes you inherit from your parents may also affect your chances of developing the condition.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was reviewed March 2018

This page is due for review November 2020

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