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 Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Explained

Gastro-oesophageal reflux or commonly known as GERD is a chronic condition that occurs when the acidic contents of the stomach flow back into the oesophagus causing damage to oesophageal tissue.

Severe cases of heartburn may also be related to gastro-oesophageal reflux.

In short, people with gastro-oesophageal reflux have a defective oesophageal sphincter muscle that allows acidic stomach content to pass through too easily or frequently into their lower oesophagus.

The side effects of this condition include excess stomach acid and a burning sensation in the chest, which often radiates up to their throat and mouth.

This condition if left untreated for any extended period of time generally may lead to complications in the form of rotten teeth, ulcers or even cancer in some cases.

There are few common symptoms which can be easily identifiable, but in some cases may be very difficult to diagnose.


What Causes Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease

It’s estimated that the population of people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is as high as 60 million in the United States and other parts of the world.

The causes of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be attributed to many things and present in many different ways.

There’s no single, shared cause of GERD, but most cases of GERD can be traced to one of three major contributing factors:

  • The diet of the person with GERD
  • An increase in gastric acid production
  • Increase in pressure

The diet of people with GERD is one of the most common causes and is often overlooked.

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Typical Symptoms of Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease


Reflux disease can cause a variety of symptoms that are commonly dismissed as the minor side effect of other ailments.

Heartburn, for instance, is usually just seen as an inconvenience or even a sign of overeating.

Typical Symptoms of GERD include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Acidic bitter taste
  • Burning Chest
  • Heartburn
  • Chronic Cough
  • Nausea
  • Hoarse Voice
  • Bad Breath

In some severe cases, acid can travel upwards with sufficient force and damage the teeth.

If you have previously been diagnosed with Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease, then you know how disruptive this condition can be in day-to-day life.

The good news is that there are a few ways that you can reduce these symptoms or even completely prevent them from occurring in most cases.

GERD Treatment

Left untreated, reflux disease can have serious impacts on your general health and quality of life through the accumulation of respiratory infections from post-nasal drip and throat infections brought on by the regurgitation of stomach acid into the throat.

Of course, it’s important to make sure you’re getting medical advice from professionals about how to best correct reflux problems before trying any self-treatments.

The main step in treating gastro-oesophageal reflux is to treat any underlying cause.

Treatments for this condition include:

  • Anti-spasmodic medications
  • Bulking agents
  • Antacids
  • Prostaglandins
  • Proton pump inhibitors.

Secondly, consider lifestyle changes that are known to relieve symptoms of this condition:

  • Sleeping with the head of the bed raised by at least six inches or more on two or more wooden blocks or bricks (several hardcover books work great)
  • Avoiding foods, you know trigger the reflux including coffee, chocolate, tomato sauces and alcohol.
  • Quit Smoking, not only will quitting smoking reduce GERD, but it can also reduce your risk for other health complications.
  • Eating small meals can also help avoid uncomfortable lumps that occur when the stomach contents stay too long in the oesophagus resulting not only of discomfort but also of regurgitation.
  • Losing weight, if overweight. Excess weight can put extra pressure on the stomach, which can cause acid reflux.
  • Lastly (and actually most importantly), one needs to lead a relaxed life without worries and stress otherwise these tend to exacerbate GERD symptoms.

More severe cases may need prescription medication or surgery. Your doctor is likely to recommend that you first try lifestyle modifications and over-the-counter medications.

If you don’t experience relief within a certain time, your doctor might recommend prescription medication or surgery.

Surgery is never the first treatment option for GERD.

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The Diagnosis of Gastro-Oesophageal Reflux Disease


To properly diagnose gastro-oesophageal reflux, there are several factors to consider, including the symptoms the patient is experiencing, the nature of any complications caused by this medical condition and whether or not their symptoms are present during all meals.

Patient history, physical examination and even diagnostic imaging will be required to fully understand what’s causing these symptoms to develop.

Your doctor might be able to diagnose gastro-oesophageal reflux disease based on a physical examination and the symptoms you are experiencing.

To confirm GERD as your diagnosis or preventing complications, your doctor might recommend the following tests:

  • Chest X-ray
    A chest x-ray is an image of the internal organs and bones of the chest and the lungs. It can be helpful in diagnosing common ailments such as Gerd, asthma, and heart disease.
  • Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series
    Upper GI is a process by which doctors examine the area of the stomach, the esophagus, and the beginning of the small intestine; typically performed by administering a contrast agent and emptying the patient’s stomach and small intestine, and then withdrawing contrast agent and any gas or fluid if necessary.
  • Endoscopy
    Endoscopy is the examination of the interior of a body organ via a long, thin, tube with a light and a lens at the end.
  • Biopsy
    A biopsy is a tissue test which is used to detect diseases in the body. A biopsy is usually done by inserting a needle, which is guided by an ultrasound or CT scan, into the suspicious tissue or organ.
  • pH testing
    Performed with a thin, plastic tube armed with a sensor, it measures the amount of acid backing up into the esophagus

How to Prevent GERD


The best and safest way to prevent acid reflux from occurring is to change the things that cause reflux such as smoking, eating before you sleep, and avoiding foods that trigger reflux.

The following foods should be avoided with GERD:

  • Smoking
  • Spicy foods
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruits and drinks
  • Coffee/ingredients with caffeine
  • Fatty and fried foods
  • Peppermint
  • Tomato-based products
  • Carbonated beverages
  • Garlic and onions
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol abuse


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Dr. Schneider Can Help


Gastroesophageal reflux disease, while not commonly a serious disease, affects many people in the world today.

A variety of reasons such as increased obesity levels, poor dietary health, and increased risk factors such as alcohol and smoking play a big role in this disorder.

Should you experience some of the symptoms mentioned in this article, consider going to see your doctor to discuss the way forward.

For more information on the diagnosis and treatment of GI tract conditions in Johannesburg, contact Dr Schneider at (011) 482-3010 or visit www.gidocjhb.co.za to book your consultation today. 


The information on this website is to provide general guidance. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self-diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. It is important to consult a Gastroenterologist or medical doctor regarding ANY and ALL symptoms or signs including, but not limited to: abdominal pain, haemorrhoids or anal / rectal bleeding as it may a sign of a serious illness or condition. A thorough consultation and examination should ALWAYS be performed for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. Be sure to call a physician or call our office today and schedule a consultation.