What is GORD?
GORD (or GERD in the US) is an abbreviation for Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease.
Gastro-Oesophageal is just a scientific way to describe your stomach (gastro) and the ‘pipe’ that connects it to your mouth (oesophagus).
Acid reflux or heartburn is a burning pain felt in the chest and sometimes back of the throat, caused by stomach acid flowing back up your oesophagus, irritating its lining.
Sometimes the condition is simply called indigestion.
In addition to the burning pain or sensation in the chest or throat, some people suffer from excessive burping or a sore throat (or hoarseness). It can even cause night time or early morning coughing.
Reflux or heartburn is relatively common and many of us experience it from time to time. However, if the reflux occurs more than twice a week, it is considered to be GORD/GERD, and it could indicate that there is an underlying problem. If untreated, it could lead to more serious health problems and impact well-being and quality of life.
What happens if GORD is not treated?
In most cases, some medication and lifestyle changes (see treatment below) can help alleviate symptoms, but for some people, ignoring GORD can lead to complications such as oesophageal ulcers or oesophageal stricture.
In the case of oesophageal ulcers, the lining of the oesophagus is damaged by the excess acid. These ulcers can bleed, cause pain and make swallowing difficult.
An oesophageal stricture occurs when the lining damage causes the formation of scar tissue that builds up, narrowing or constricting the oesophagus. This makes swallowing difficult and potentially painful. A stricture may require surgery to remove scar tissue and restore the width of the oesophagus.
What causes GORD?
The most common cause of gastro-oesophageal reflux is an issue with the lower oesophageal sphincter (LOS), the ‘valve’ that allows food to move through to the stomach and then closes to prevent stomach acid rising up.
If the sphincter relaxes abnormally or is somehow weakened in strength, stomach acid can flow up your oesophagus, causing the pain of heartburn. This tends to happen more when you bend over or lie down.
Sometimes the reflux is caused by a physical issue called a hiatus hernia, a condition in which the stomach bulges up into the chest cavity through an opening in your diaphragm muscle. This hernia compromises the ability of the sphincter to prevent acid flowing up.
Other risk factors for GORD include:
- Being overweight
- Overconsumption of fatty foods, because the stomach takes longer to dispose of stomach acids after digesting such meals
- Consumption of ‘relaxants’ such as tobacco, alcohol, coffee or chocolate
- Hiatus hernia, a condition in which the stomach bulges up into the chest cavity through an opening in your diaphragm muscle
- Pregnancy. Changes in hormone levels can relax the LOS. And there is usually increased pressure on the stomach during pregnancy
- Connective tissue disorders
- A condition called gastroparesis (fairly common in people with diabetes) where the stomach takes longer to dispose of stomach acid
How is GORD treated?
If you suffer from reflux more than twice weekly and suspect GORD, you should seek medical advice. Long term use of other counter medications (eg antacids and H2 antagonists such as ranitidine, or Proton Pump Inhibitors or PPIs) is not recommended.
Your healthcare professional will also no doubt recommend changes to your lifestyle and/or diet to reduce the risk factors for reflux and GORD. For example:
- Reducing the amount of fat in the diet
- Losing weight
- Reducing alcohol consumption
- Quitting smoking
- Eating smaller meals more frequently, rather than less frequent large ones
- Raising the head of your bed at night
GORD Awareness Week
November 17 – 23, 2020